Consider it a sign of these desultory political times that North Korea's nuclear antics provide an occasion for American leaders to point fingers at one another rather than clasping hands to confront a national security threat.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., a presidential contender in 2008, tags President Bush for allowing Kim Jong Il to enter the nuclear clubhouse. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., one of her potential rivals, responds by pinning the tail on the Clinton White House donkey.
And former President Jimmy Carter, ever the gracious peacemaker, says the Bush administration threw all his immensely valuable work into the radioactive wastebasket.
The Agreed Framework, which the Clinton administration negotiated with North Korea in 1994 with Carter's assistance, was not as some conservative critics would now have it a case study in liberal appeasement. On the contrary, it was a good demonstration of America's traditional realist approach in foreign affairs.
When North Korea threatened to annul its commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, expel international weapons inspectors and begin reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, the most noteworthy American responses were military. President Clinton sent Patriot missile batteries to South Korea. U.S. and South Korean troops engaged in joint military exercises.
The Pentagon very publicly drew up plans to deploy additional troops to the South, began the logistical process to increase stores of munitions and equipment and replaced an aging fleet of attack helicopters south of the DMZ with new Apache attack helicopters. Defense Secretary William Perry, by conspicuously not ruling out a pre-emptive strike on Pyongyang's nuclear facilities, implied the threat of American military pre-emption.
But Clinton also pursued an unofficial diplomatic option through the offices of private citizen Carter, who didn't seem to be troubled by all the starving North Korean people.
And it was a calculated application of both sticks and carrots that created the Agreed Framework, which exchanged the promise of two light water reactors and heavy fuel oil for some ineffective oversight of North Korea's existing nuclear program.
And in the heady days of the post-Cold War world, when everyone was supposed to enjoy a peace dividend and military conflict had allegedly gone the way of the dinosaur, that may have been the best deal any American president could have hoped for.
Clintonistas and Carter peace fetishists would like to pretend that Kim Jong Il's dissimulations only started after Bush hurt his feelings by roping him into the axis of evil. Early on in 2001, however, U.S. intelligence presented evidence to the new Bush administration that North Korea had been circumventing the framework.
Still, work on the light water reactors continued and Bush kept the heavy fuel oil shipments going.
It was only in 2002, when Pyongyang threw out inspectors and admitted that it had almost from the start been working on an illicit uranium enrichment program, that the diplomatic edifice of the framework collapsed.
The fault for North Korea's nuclear gambit doesn't lie with one or another American administration; it lies with North Korea. Neither Kim Il Sung nor Kim Jong Il ever had any intention of abiding by the Agreed Framework. Treaties with dictators are worthless because the national elements that normally compel adherence to treaty obligations public opinion, legislative and judicial institutions, a constitutional foundation simply don't exist.
There's no cost to dictators for lying and cheating on treaties or, for that matter, whimsically going to war. The Kims wanted to have their nuclear cake and eat it, too. And they did.
Recognizing this fact, rather than playing the partisan blame game, suggests the United States has few realistic options in trying to contain the nuclear genie on the Korean peninsula. In between accepting North Korean nukes in a dangerous world and the military option, a diplomatic alternative might exist.
But it will require far more extensive oversight and a far more rigorous regime of enforcement than anything envisioned in 1994.