I saw this in today's New York Times:
AFTER years of lonely street demonstrations and little-noticed newspaper columns, Kang Chol Hwan, a North Korean defector, learned recently that his life had irrevocably changed.
"I was introduced as someone who wrote a book that was read by George Bush," he said in a recent interview at a museum cafe in Seoul, South Korea, only 150 miles south of the North Korean slave labor camp where he was imprisoned with his family in 1977. He was 9 years old.
Burning with memories of his family's 10-year imprisonment in the camp, which still functions hidden from outside eyes but not from satellite cameras, Mr. Kang teamed up with Pierre Rigoulot, a French journalist, to write a memoir, "The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag."
... at the urging of former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, President Bush picked it up. Pretty soon, with the president commending it to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other top aides, the book jumped to the top of the Bush administration's summer reading list.
On Monday, Mr. Kang, 37, received the ultimate book endorsement when he was ushered into the Oval Office for a 40-minute meeting with Mr. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley....
Assuming Bush has actually read this book, is this really the best use of his time? To read a book that teaches him nothing concrete, and merely reinforces the sense he already has the North Koreans are purely evil?
I don't want any right-wingers to misunderstand my point -- I'm not suggesting that Bush should be reading books about North Korea that say Kim Jong-Il is a swell guy. Obviously the country is a disaster. But what Bush should be reading is something that might actually give him insight into Kim's strengths and weaknesses -- which actually might help him find a way to contain the threat the regime poses and lessen its ability to do harm. Instead, this book seems to be doing nothing for him apart from getting the juices of his self-righteousness flowing:
In late April, the president's reading of "The Aquariums of Pyongyang" seemed to bolster his longstanding hostility toward North Korea. As American diplomats tried to revive stalled talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, Mr. Bush told reporters in Washington that Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader, was a "dangerous person" who ran "huge concentration camps."
Yes -- much better to rail against the bad guy than to actually diminish the nuclear threat he poses.
But that's Bush. It's said that all that's necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing; there's truth in that, but Bush seems to believe the reverse -- that all that's necessary for good to triumph is for good people to do something -- anything. In the case of Iraq, it's not merely that he doesn't seem to grasp that what he and Rumsfeld have done there isn't working -- it's that he can't even conceive that it won't work sooner or later. After all, we're Good, and the enemy is Evil. We the Good are fighting Evil. Therefore, inevitably, we will win. And maybe that's his approach to North Korea, too -- the way to defeat Evil is to really, really hate it a lot.