In short, how do we find ourselves in this fix today? You can sum it up in two words: Jimmy Carter.
In 1994 Carter cut an appeasement deal with North Korea's dictator to try to get them to abandon their nuclear program, and then forced the deal on the weak-kneed Clinton administration. Unfortunately for the world, the massive damage Carter always wreaks wasn't limited to the four years of his presidency. It continues and spreads to this day.
In 1994, the North Koreans ramped up their nuclear program leading to high tension with the U.S. From the transcript of the Frontline program (I've added titles for some of the speakers):
ROBERT GALLUCCI [Clinton Asst. Secretary of State]: And so that led us to that one now somewhat famous meeting of the National Security Council, which the president held in the Cabinet Room, attended by the secretary of state, secretary of defense, the vice president, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- a whole lot of people involved -- in which the secretary of defense presented three military options.Needless to say, North Korea didn't cease it's program. Jimmy Carter, in a breathtaking stroke of hubris and audacity, usurped the authority of the president of the United States and obligated the U.S. to a peace deal in which the North Koreans would supposedly halt their nuclear program while the U.S. would send them a half million tons of oil and build them two nuclear power reactors. Of course, North Korea continued right along with the development of their weapons program anyway, as everyone (except apparently Carter) knew they would, while the U.S.'s hands were tied by the agreement.
WILLIAM PERRY [Clinton Secretary of Defense]: I advised President Clinton that we ought to reinforce our military forces. We had gone over the war contingency plans very carefully and had concluded that we-- in the event of an invasion from the north, we would undoubtedly win. We would be successful in defeating the north. But how many casualties we'd suffer would depend very much on how well-prepared we were. We were literally in the process of giving the briefing to him, laying out the three alternative options, when the call came in from North Korea
ROBERT GALLUCCI: The phone call comes from Jimmy Carter, who is in Pyongyang at the time, talking to Kim Il Sung, in which Jimmy Carter tell me-- I step out of the meeting with the president to step into a small room to talk to the former president. And Jimmy Carter then describes a possible way out of this situation.
NARRATOR: Former president Jimmy Carter had gone on a private trip to Pyongyang to broker a peace deal, even though some senior members of the Clinton White House opposed his effort.
Pres. JIMMY CARTER: I was given a list of all the U.S. demands concerning nuclear program, primarily, but a few others. And when Kim Il Sung agreed with me directly and personally that he would comply with all those demands that I relayed as a messenger, then I was very relieved about that.
ROBERT GALLUCCI: There was in the room some unhappiness over the deal. But even--
MARTIN SMITH [Frontline Correspondent]: Carter had freelanced.
ROBERT GALLUCCI: Well, it wasn't only that Carter had freelanced. It's that President Carter also told me he was about to go on CNN and say what the terms of this would be. [Gallucci here adds in the full interview transcript, though it doesn't appear in the program, "That was not only freelancing, but it was also, to some degree, boxing in the sitting president, President Clinton."]-Video clip-MARTIN SMITH: You made a decision to go on CNN while you're sitting there--
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
ANCHOR: It is now past midnight Friday morning in North Korea. And later today, former president Jimmy Carter plans a second day of--
Pres. JIMMY CARTER: Yes.
MARTIN SMITH: --negotiating with Kim Il Sung.
Pres. JIMMY CARTER: I felt that it was important for the commitments that Kim Il Sung had made to be revealed to the public. It would have made it much more difficult for him to reverse himself or to violate his commitments.
MARTIN SMITH: But it wasn't a chess move on your part to try to get this thing aired--
Pres. JIMMY CARTER: Yes.
MARTIN SMITH: --in order to box in both sides to bring them together?
Pres. JIMMY CARTER: Well, I can't deny that I hoped that it would consummate a resolution of what I considered to be a very serious crisis.
NARRATOR: Kim Il Sung told Carter he would freeze the reactor at Yongbyon and go back to the negotiating table. But a month later, he suddenly died of a heart attack.
I guess that's the kind of thing that wins one a Nobel Peace Prize these days.