MELTDOWN by Mike Chinoy


The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis
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A knowledgeable chronicle of U.S.–North Korean negotiations during the Clinton and Bush White House years.

Chinoy (China Live, 1997, etc.) formerly covered North and South Korea for CNN and now studies them from afar as a fellow at the Pacific Council on International Policy. He shows that Kim Jong-Il is indeed a dictator who continues the repressive policies of his father. Unlike many other journalists and foreign-policy analysts, however, Chinoy analyzes U.S. and South Korean policymakers just as closely as the North Koreans, with China, Japan and other nations also figuring in the mix. This provides welcome context for North Korea’s development of a nuclear arsenal. If Kim Jong-Il comes across as a villain driving an “Axis of Evil” nation, current President Bush is painted in colors just as dark. In scene after scene, meticulously sourced by Chinoy (though some of those sources insisted on and received anonymity), Bush and his chief foreign-policy advisors come across as ideologues at best, fools squandering an opportunity for nuclear disarmament at worst. The author does not appear to be a shrill, knee-jerk Bush administration critic, but a journalist taking the story where the facts have led him. The irony is that the Bush administration built its foreign policy around the desire to prevent countries like North Korea from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, but failed in part because of its inability to negotiate effectively. Chinoy’s depiction of the visceral, personal hostility Bush developed for Kim Jong-Il is especially disturbing, because he shows a U.S. president making decisions based on emotion instead of reason. The only caveat to make about this splendid book is that its detail is so immense, the back and forth of diplomacy that it describes so lacking in rationality, that the narrative occasionally becomes overwhelming.

A triumph of explanatory reporting about foreign policy.

Pub Date: Aug. 7th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-312-37153-1
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2008