It now appears as if the slow waltz to war course chosen by the Bush administration on Iraq will not be without a price to pay. Trying to read the motivations behind the actions of enigmatic North Korea is nearly an impossible task but it seems clear that they have decided that the doddering pace of the U.S. squeeze play against Iraq has left them with a window of opportunity to disregard previous U.S. threats and proceed with their nuclear weapons program. Now I don't subscribe to the theory that the administration has been "distracted" from keeping an eye on North Korea by events in Iraq as if they were a fast food operation with two pimply faced teenagers on hand trying to keep up with a line of customers while the "fries are up" alarm beeps incessantly in the background. And in fairness the blame for fact that it now appears that the North Koreans believe that the United States cannot militarily deal with them and the Iraqis at the same time (despite Don Rumsfeld's comments to the contrary) could be laid at the feet of the Clinton administration and it's failure to maintain an adequate force to fight on two fronts. But it's also hard not to conclude that had the administration pushed the timetable on Iraq a bit harder the North Korean situation could have been avoided for a time.
In the long run the only way to ensure lasting peace and security for the United States and it's allies is regime change in Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as Bush outlined in his axis of evil speech. Syria and maybe even Saudi Arabia could also be added to the list depending on developments in those countries. But with the big three it's not a question of "if" but rather "when" and "how". The answer to the question "Why Iraq?" is simple. Because it's the easiest country to affect change in right now with the pre-existing violations of the Gulf War cease fire agreement by Iraq, the weakened state of it's military, and Saddam's well know history of aggression and terror. Iraq is not an end game and it does not mean that we won't go after Iran and North Korea. It just means that they're first on the list.
The problem is that once you come out and declare that these three countries are on your naughty list you need to move without too much hesitation lest you give them a chance to counteract your strategy. The longer the U.N. charade drags out with Iraq the longer the North Koreans and Iranians have to prepare for their day of reckoning and when that day arrives we might have to pay a much higher price to achieve our goals. There appears to be some hope in Iran of a revolution from within but North Korea is likely to be a much tougher and potentially bloodier nut to crack. A fanatical regime armed to the teeth with nothing to lose is not a pleasant thought. This same regime with nuclear weapons is terrifying.
As Michael Ledeen, author of The War Against the Terror Masters has been saying: "Faster, please. We're already very late."