CBS's Harry Smith Asks If Kim Is 'Just Nuts,' But Asks Nothing About Clinton Policies

CBS "Early Show" host Harry Smith performed two interview segments on North Korea's failed missile test. While he showed noticeable restraint from the usual isn't-Bush-bumbling line of questioning, even showing concern at America's adversary here -- asking Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns "Is Kim Jong Il just nuts?" -- he didn't press former Clinton diplomat Bill Richardson on the Clinton administration's policy of appeasement and arms-control agreements that the North Koreans egregiously violated.

The Burns interview came first. In addition to the "just nuts" question (Burns demurred diplomatically, "let's just say he's unpredictable"), Smith asked: "The Chinese as recently as last week were reaching out to the North Koreans, saying please don't do this. They seem to do whatever they want. How do you deal with a country that is so willful and disregards the pleas of even its friends in the neighborhood?"

MRC's Mike Rule noted that with Richardson, Smith built up his experience:

Harry Smith: "You've been in that neck of the woods. You have you talked with these people. What does it cost the United States when there is a government like North Korea that basically is doing whatever it wants?"

Bill Richardson: "Well, I disagree with the undersecretary, although the administration approach of not overreacting makes sense."

Harry Smith: "Right."

Bill Richardson: "You have to talk to them directly with the North Koreans, it's a question of status. They feel..."

Harry Smith: "But the Bush Administration has said a long time, were not going to do one-on-one with these guys."

Bill Richardson: "Well, that policy isn't working. Obviously, with what's happened. What makes sense is to proceed with one-on-one talks between Christopher Hill, the Assistant Secretary, who is very capable. The North Koreans trust him, who's in the region, to set up the next range of six-party talks where you talk about North Korea abandoning their nuclear weapons in exchange basically for a no-attack policy by the six-party countries. North Korea is unpredictable. You don't negotiate with them like they're another country. They're surreal. They're totally isolated. They're tightly controlled, the cult of personality. They don't react like you and I do. It's not give and take with them. It's take and then they will gauge your reaction as to how soon it takes for you to agree with them, so you can't normally deal with them like any other country negotiating with each other."

In case you didn't savor the flavor of what Richardson was cooking, let's isolate it again: "It's not give and take with them. It's take" and then you have to agree with them. This is where you might suggest that Harry Smith ask, "What does America get out of giving and giving and never getting anything in return?" But he moved on:

Harry Smith: "Okay, assume for a minute we go ahead and do one-on-one negotiations. What does Kim Jong Il gain by getting the full attention of the United States?"

Bill Richardson: "He's a man that little slights really affect him. For instance, when the president mentioned Axis of Evil. When he was called a 10-point [?] dictator, that really affects him. On the other hand, when President Bush said Mr. Kim Jong Il, I was in North Korea at the time for some talks, and the North Koreans said well that showed respect and we liked that. So by going one-to-one, at a low level, I believe that Kim Jong Il gets the recognition that he wants, that the main actors here, the United States and North Korea. Not the United States, North Korea, and five other countries. The reality is that North Korea is dangerous. And it makes sense to deal with them directly. Now, we did that in the Clinton administration. For ten years, they didn't develop nuclear weapons. Yes, they went out of their agreement but, at the same time, that worked, that broad stability. Right now, this current unstable situation is unhealthy for everybody, especially our allies in Japan, in South Korea and also, we've got 50,000 American troops on the DMZ. So we're directly affected by a country could have as many as five nuclear weapons, the fourth largest standing army and a very unpredictable leader."

This answer underlined where Smith failed to press against the failure of Clinton foreign policy. But since when do network anchors ever find a failure of Clinton foreign policy? See Rich Lowry’s take in 2003 here. He noted that the Clinton team wanted the impression of progress more than they expected to produce progress:

This is exactly what Clinton administration did. Its food aid to North Korea, for instance, served an important ulterior purpose: creating the illusion of progress with the North. "Officially a humanitarian gesture, American food aid has become a bribe for North Korea to attend meetings that create the impression U.S. diplomacy is working," wrote former diplomat Robert A. Manning in 1998.

On "Fox & Friends," MRC's Scott Whitlock reported, former Clinton North Korea expert Wendy Sherman laid all the blame for the missile tests on the Bush administration, who are somehow being snubbed in away the Clinton people were not:

“At the beginning of the Bush administration six years ago, North Korea had enough plutonium for one or two nuclear weapons, plutonium that was created during father Bush's term in office. No plutonium was created during the Clinton administration. And now, six years after the beginning of George W. Bush's presidency, North Korea has enough plutonium for six, eight, or ten nuclear weapons. So we certainly haven't made progress over the last six  years and I think what you saw from Secretary Perry is enough of letting North Korea go after redline after redline, and sort of thumb its nose at the United States. It's time to get serious about what we're doing to stop North Korea's not only missile capability but more importantly their nuclear capability.” 

At least Fox’s Mike Jerrick came back by suggesting that some would say the Clinton folks didn’t exactly hold North Korea accountable, to say the least.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis