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March 2003-May 2003: Bush Makes Empty Air Strike Threat against North Korea

President Bush orders several attack planes, along with a number of B-1 and B-52 bombers, to the US Air Force base in Guam, as an implied threat against North Korea’s restarted nuclear program (see January 10, 2003 and After). Foreign affairs journalist Fred Kaplan will call the administration’s response “a feeble threat, a classic case of shutting the barn door after the horses escaped.” The fuel rods of such concern to the US (see October 4, 2002) are long hidden away from US satellites. Bush makes no further preparations for any sort of air strike against North Korea, nor does he make any diplomatic “carrot and stick” overtures to the North Koreans. After two months, Bush orders the aircraft back to their home bases. Why such a feeble response? Many believe that the answer lies in the administration’s focus on Iraq; in the words of one senior administration official, “President Bush does not want to distract international attention from Iraq.” In April, after the invasion of Iraq experiences initial success (see March 25, 2003), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tells Bush that North Korea could also profit from an Iraq-style regime change; while Bush agrees, the administration takes no steps in that direction. Instead, Bush officials mount what is little more than a pretense of diplomatic negotiations (see April 2003). [Washington Monthly, 5/2004]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Fred Kaplan, US Department of the Air Force, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

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