In 1994 the Clinton administration struck a deal with North Korea to get them to stop processing plutonium in exchange for some energy assistance. This deal stayed in place until 2002 when the Bush administration scrapped the deal because they thought the North Koreans were beginning to process uranium instead.
Well...it turns out the Bush intelligence was wrong and that North Korea was not processing uranium. Yet, in halting the deal the North Koreans were able to restart the processing of plutonium. Which is where they got the material for their current arsenal of nuclear weapons.
As noted in the Frontline episode that I posted about below, this administration believes that any problem can be fixed without referencing an external reality. They completely mismanaged post war Iraq because they believed that a long brutalized people would magically learn to govern themselves. They messed up the North Korean situation because they believed that the right amount of posturing would get the results they needed.
UPDATE: Matt Yglesias offers a nice timeline:
- The 1994 Agreed Framework froze the DPRK efforts to build a nuclear weapon using plutonium.
- In 2002, the Bush administration pulled out of the Agreed Framework, arguing that the DPRK was cheating by running a secret parallel uranium program.
- In the intervening years, the DPRK has succeeded in using its now-unfrozen plutonium program to build some bombs.
- They have not, however, had any success in building uranium bombs.
- This looked like pretty shitty policymaking for the Bush administration.
- It looks much worse, however, after we learn today that the uranium program may never have existed.