AUSTIN, Texas -- Nobody else seems to be asking the obvious question about Susan B. Ralston, former administrative assistant to Jack Abramoff and, until last week, assistant to Karl Rove. She got hired by Rove at $64,700 after the 2004 election and then received a raise to $122,000. Why? I've never gotten a 100 percent raise. Did you? Is this common?

             I know next to nothing about North Korea, but I know how to find out. People who do know the weird country have been worrying about it in print for six years now. (See articles in The New York Review of Books.) Eric Alterman picked this bit up in "The Book on Bush": "The tone of Powell's tenure was set early in the administration, when he announced that he planned 'to pick up where the Clinton administration had left off' in trying to secure the peace between North and South Korea, while negotiating with the North to prevent its acquisition of nuclear weaponry. The president not only repudiated his secretary of state in public, announcing, 'We're not certain as to whether or not they're keeping all terms of all agreements,' he did so during a joint appearance with South Korean President (and Nobel laureate for peace for his own efforts with the North) Kim Dae-Jung, thereby humiliating his honored guest, as well.

            "A day later, Powell backpedaled. 'The president forcefully made the point that we are undertaking a full review of our relationship with North Korea,' Powell said. 'There was some suggestion that imminent negotiations are about to begin -- that is not the case.'"

            This was pre-9/11, when Bush's entire foreign policy consisted in not doing whatever Clinton had done, and vice versa. Also from "The Book on Bush": "As former Ambassadors Morton Abramowitz and James Laney warned at the moment of Bush's carelessly worded 'Axis of Evil' address, 'Besides putting another knife in the diminishing South Korean president,' the speech would likely cause 'dangerous escalatory consequences, (including) … renewed tensions on the peninsula and continued export of missiles to the Mideast.' ... North Korea called the Bush bluff, and the result, notes (Washington Post) columnist Richard Cohen, was 'a stumble, a fumble, an error compounded by a blooper ... as appalling a display of diplomacy as anyone has seen since a shooting in Sarajevo turned into World War I.'"

            Remember Bush's diplomatic interview with Bob Woodward, when he said, "I loathe Kim Jong-Il!"  Waving his finger, he added, "I've got a visceral reaction to this guy because he is starving his people.” Bush also said he wanted to "topple him" and called him a "pygmy."  How old were you when you learned not to antagonize and infuriate the local crazy bully?

            Always a top diplomat. But I warn you, when Bush makes reference of this, as in "my gut tells me," we are in big trouble. By any measure, North Korea continued to be more dangerous than Iraq.

            I don't see how this mess can be blamed on anyone but Bush, but I notice that a few Republicans have dragged out the shade of Bill Clinton because he tried to deal with North Korea. I would have thought there wasn't much water left in that bogeyman, but I guess he is the straw man for all seasons among Republicans. Why doesn't someone on Fox News ask him about it?

             Meanwhile, our fiendishly clever president has dragged his daddy's old family consigliore, James Baker, out of retirement to think of something to do about Iraq. A three-part partition is mentioned. Michigan History Professor Juan Cole on his blog explains why that's a disaster, but I suspect that's where the poor Iraqis end up anyway, followed by war with Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

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