Iraq's Saddam Hussein rules a desert kingdom with a potential to
make atom bombs. Fellow dictator Kim Jong Il of North Korea, by
contrast, has two nuclear programs, and possibly a couple of bombs.
To disarm Mr. Hussein - who has admitted UN inspectors - some
200,000 US troops are shipping to the Gulf this week on a mission
that may last years. Yet even after North Korea kicked out UN
inspectors and issued war threats, the White House this week backed
away from a policy not to talk with "Dear Leader" Kim.
North Korea said Thursday it would delay a planned meeting with
South Korea. And as of this writing, it had not responded to
Washington's invitation to talk.
The resulting standoff is shaping North Korea into a major
friction point in Asia that will test the region's stability. Kim's
unexpected capacity to escalate tensions - and whispers in
Washington that bombmaking ability makes Kim more dangerous than
Hussein - has fueled the question: why Iraq and not North Korea?
Here in wintry South Korea, the logic of not taking military
action is clear: Kim's thousands of artillery tubes could quickly
turn Seoul into toast and endanger 37,000 US troops stationed in the
country. North Korea also has missile technology with guidance
systems accurate enough reach targets in Japan.
Yet beyond these basic differences, experts point to a laundry
list of reasons why, despite a recent history of trickery and a
violation of treaties by both states - the North presents a
different picture from that of Iraq.
There is, for one thing, no "South Iraq." There is, however, a
South Korea, whose leaders have a "go-slow" policy of engaging the
North that differs markedly from the approach of the Bush team. Also
unlike Iraq, North Korea does not abut geographically sensitive oil
routes depended on by the world for energy. Nor has Kim invaded any
neighbors lately, while Hussein's Army laid waste to part of Kuwait
The main characters, Hussein and Kim, are themselves very
different. Hussein, sometimes called irrational, has in the past
flouted the West to buff his image in the Gulf region. Kim, despite
his high-heel shoes, Don King-style hair, and odd history of
kidnapping film actresses, is viewed as a rational actor -
continuing the policy of his father, Kim Il Sung, who, after the
cold war and the abandonment of allies Russia and China, sought to
make a deal with the US to assure the survival of his regime at all
"Kim is a rational actor who has been backed into a corner," says
Scott Snyder of the Asia Foundation in Seoul. "He has demonstrated
internal consistency and logic in his approach. If you are an
absolute leader on top of a failing system, and you are focused on
survival, there is a reason to obtain a nuclear chip. It may not be
constructive to US interests, but it is reasonable from a North
To be sure, both Iraq and North Korea are repressive and closed,
fatefully grouped as "axis of evil" members. Both produce dangerous
bioweapons that can be exported. …