I've never read a piece of work by Robert Kagan that hasn't challenged my brain, and this one is no exception. He co-wrote it with Dan Blumenthal, whose writing I do not know. But the little article they've contributed to the Washington Post certainly added a fresh perspective to the problem of dealing with North Korea and its frantic rush for nuclear weapons.
Why, they ask, go through Beijing to get to Pyongyang? The assumption of the "realists" is that North Korea is "one of those strategic interests that America and Beijing allegedly share." In their op-ed column, Kagan and Blumenthal discredit this by now blithe assumption.
So what do they suggest? That Obama go straight to Kim Jong Il and try to make a deal. Or something of a deal. I am a little loathe to let every criminal crank who runs a country assume that he might get a visit from Barack Obama. But, since the president has seen a few scummy heads-of-state already, I suppose there is no harm in him meeting this one who is truly a criminal and truly a crank. And very dangerous, besides. By the way, this is not just K and G's idea. It was first broached, I believe, by my old friend from graduate school Leon Sigal, as reported in the March 3, 2009 recap of the North Korean Economy Watch.
Sigal had gone to North Korea as part of a group including Mort Abramovitz, Jonathan Pollack, and Steven Bosworth, since then the most important figure in thinking and dealing with Kim Jong Il's regime. He has been designated as Mrs. Clinton's special envoy on North Korea. The trouble is that he is moonlighting. He hasn't given up his regular job as dean of the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts University. Now, he has much knowledge about and experience with the Koreans. But shouldn't this be a full-time gig? "No, Professor, we cannot allow you another sabbatical in 2011" and other such trivia.