THE US has been caught out banging the war drum over North Korea. That threat has provoked such a strong public reaction that the governments of South Korea and Japan, both US allies, have distanced themselves from George Bush. The division of the Korean peninsula into two states is a relic of the Cold War. The US backed the South, while China and Russia at different times supported the North.
Bush announced his intention to squeeze North Korea 12 months ago, when he included it with Iraq and Iran in the 'axis of evil'. Two months ago, US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the US military could fight a war against Iraq and North Korea at the same time. This came after news that the North Korean government had thrown out UN inspectors from its Yongbyon nuclear site and had restarted operations.
But there is such feeling against Bush that even a South Korean government official said the US may have concocted the nuclear crisis to trigger a confrontation with the North. An analyst in Japan said, 'Officials in the South Korean capital Seoul are asking why the US State Department revealed North Korea's supposed nuclear admission when it did.
'It is felt that the ability of North Korea to make a bomb has been exaggerated so Bush can keep tensions on the boil until the next presidential election, just in case an attack on Iraq is not possible for some time.' Whatever the truth of that, Bush has for two years undermined the South Korean government's efforts to establish closer relations with North Korea.
Now he is trying to defuse the crisis the US warmongers have created. There have been the biggest anti-US demonstrations in South Korea for many years.
A candidate in favour of reducing tension with North Korea, Roh Moo-hyun, won last month's South Korean presidential election, beating the pro-US candidate. The US seizure of a North Korean ship heading to Yemen, in the Middle East, during the campaign backfired.
Days before the election 70,000 people protested outside the US embassy in Seoul over the deaths of two girls at the hands of the US military. A US military tribunal let off the soldiers responsible for running over the girls. Under laws going back 50 years US troops stationed in South Korea are immune from local prosecution.
The chief foreign affairs adviser to the president-elect says over relations between South and North Korea, 'Washington has to understand that we have no choice but to settle this matter peacefully. We've already seen what war can do to the Korean people.'
For all the bluster, the US needs South Korea and Japan on side if it is to undermine potentially the biggest power in the region-China. So there are deep divisions in Bush's administration between threatening war with North Korea or involving all the region's states in a compromise.
Bush's aggression, the continuing presence of US troops, and the US desire to dominate East Asia leave war over North Korea a possibility. But his conciliatory noises over the last three weeks show that even his warmongering government sees the danger of political isolation and military disaster.