In 1993, evidence came to light that in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which N. Korea was a signatory, they were secretly working on a program to produce nuclear weapons. Confronted with the evidence, Kim Il Sung abruptly announced his intention that North Korea would become the first nation ever to withdraw from the NNPT.
Efforts by the Clinton administration to reach a diplomatic solution led to the 1994 Agreed Framework. N. Korea, now under Kim Jong Il, received aid, trade, and diplomatic recognition in return for a promise to freeze its nuclear program in place. "The American right viewed the deal as 'appeasement' and an example of perceived American weakness abroad."
During the rest of the Clinton administration's time through the '90s, a delicate balance existed; the U.S. occasionally accused N. Korea of cheating, while N. Korea accused the U.S. of not providing all the benefits it had promised:
At least some of this was the case since the Republican Congress worked to scuttle the deal via its control of the appropriations process. Basically, they wouldn’t make the money available.Nevertheless, the situation remained relatively stable. The Bush administration, however, resolved to demonstrate toughness against N. Korea, and took a hard line, repudiating the Agreed Framework and taking harsh economic measures against the Hermit Kingdom:
"... the Bush administration, not without some reason, said you don’t reward aggressive behavior. We’re going to get tough with North Korea and stop paying protection money. And they did get tough – to the extent that getting tough means saying mean things and showing resolve. But the Bush folks eventually came to grips with the reality the Clinton team had confronted which was that the US had no military options it deemed viable. Could the US invade and overthrow the North Korean government? Sure. But only at the cost of probably hundreds of thousands of lives, the risk of a conflict with China and a lot else.
But the key is this. As of 2002, the North Koreans had no active nuclear weapons program. The Bush administration used the intelligence about a uranium enrichment program as a confirmation of its doubts about the Agreed Framework and proceeded to scuttle the deal over the course of 2003. In 2006, North Korea detonated its first nuclear weapon.In the Obama era, U.S options were quite a bit more limited. North Korea now had nuclear weapons, "with all the obvious deterrence that goes along with it." But as Digby says: "... Trump policy is really just a fast forward and much clumsier and stupider version of the Bush policy." Trump's approach was, "I’ll get tough and make North Korea behave. The Trump administration’s rhetoric of strength and resolve was comical even by Bush era standards."
Here's an example of the Trump administration's macho posturing:
Back in April Vice President Pence made the traditional presidential and vice presidential visit to the demilitarized zone. According to the Post, Pence actually was not scheduled to walk outside at ‘Freedom House’ on the South Korean side of the border. But he made an impromptu decision to go outside because he thought it was important that the North Koreans see US ‘resolve’ in his face. I’m not kidding. He really said this. “I thought it was important that we went outside. I thought it was important that people on the other side of the DMZ see our resolve in my face.”
So here we are. And as Digby says:
Trump is a bully who thinks if he threatens people they will back down. That's clearly not working. But he's also supposed to be a master negotiator who can get anyone to the bargaining table and make a great deal that everyone is happy with. You'd think he'd want to at least try that. But he's just blustering about nonsense because he's a fool who couldn't negotiate his way out of a paper bag..
So, here we are, with North Korea making it very clear that they are prepared to launch a missile at someone if they feel provoked and an imbecile for president who has no clue what he's gotten himself into and could easily fall for some Buck Turgidson type who wants to swing America's manhood around. It's a bad situation.