I recently finished reading “Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis” by former CNN correspondent Mike Chinoy. Before I go any further with this, I should note in the interest of full disclosure that Mike was a teacher of mine at USC, and that I transcribed several interviews and contributed some research for this book.

It’s an excellent read, although the nuances of nuclear proliferation policy may be a bit complicated for a person unfamiliar with the issues surrounding America’s complicated relationship with North Korea. Mike does a good job documenting some of the behind-the-scenes power struggles within the Bush administration. There’s enough duplicity and backstabbing going on to rival any reality TV show, only that there are real world consequences as a result.

The major characters in this book – secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, nonproliferation chief John Bolton, North Korea negotiator Christopher Hill, and others – come across as dedicated public servants regardless of their position on the ideological and diplomatic spectrum in handling the North Korea issue, even when they are at each others’ throats.

Mike also does a good job at analyzing the M.O. of the North Koreans, parsing through the public and private statements of government officials as well as the official reports from the North Korean news agency to put developments and events into context, and how these comments often foretold of positive or negative developments in the U.S.-North Korea relationship. It’s easy and tempting to try and dismiss the North Koreans for their behavior, and wonder about how accurate the caricature of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Kim Jong Il really is (I’ve been guilty of that), but they certainly do not come across this way in the book.

If there is such a thing as being able to figure out what makes North Korea and Dear Leader tick, Mike is probably pretty close to it. He once said to me words to the effect that Kim Jong Il was as rational as a person could be in an irrational environment. Some of the words and actions of the North Korean government do seem irrational, and even childish at times. Their nuclear test in October of 2006 was neither of these, but rather something akin to Glenn Close’s famous line in the movie Fatal Attraction: “I’m not gonna be ignored.”

There are no bombshells in this book like George Tenet’s infamous slam dunk comment, but Washington Post diplomatic correspondent Glenn Kessler reviewed Meltdown and has a far better understanding of the news value and significance of what Mike uncovered in the course of his reporting for this book.

Regardless of who wins the election next week, the next president will have to figure out how to continue dealing with North Korea and make sure that the relationship does not deteriorate the way it did during the past eight years.

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