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Could Dennis Rodman's basketball diplomacy do any good in North Korea?
The former NBA player says he's going on vacation with his new pal, Kim Jong Un, in August. With Kim threatening war, is that really a good idea?
Dennis Rodman, Kim Jong Un's only friend right now.
Dennis Rodman, Kim Jong Un's only friend right now. Jim Rogash/Getty Images
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resh off a highly publicized — and widely ridiculed — trip to North Korea, tattooed former NBA star Dennis Rodman says he's planning to go on vacation in August with his new "friend for life," North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Kim has not confirmed the vacation plans, but he has threatened to attack the United States with a nuclear bomb. Kim's regime also just scrapped its 60-year-old ceasefire with South Korea in a fit of anger over new U.N. sanctions aiming to punish the Hermit Kingdom for its recent nuclear test. "I don't condone what he does, but he's my friend," Rodman said during a promotional appearance in North Dakota.

It's easy to mock Rodman's bizarre antics, as well the former NBA star's suggestion that President Obama should follow Rodman's lead by using his and Kim's mutual love of basketball to break the ice. But Rodman — aka "The Worm" — might be right, suggests Danile Pinkston of the International Crisis Group (via Britain's Guardian). Nothing else seems to be working, but "basketball diplomacy" might really be a way to "deliver a Trojan horse of subversion" to the isolated communist regime, "just as Gorbachev's perestroika did for the USSR and the lifting of travel restrictions did for East Germany." Kim already has embraced a tattooed and pierced American, which is not a bad start.

Personal exchanges are probably the best way to expose North Koreans to different types of governance and social organization, which is the first step in the thought process that results in questioning the regime... Why not systematize all this with a "basketball development foundation"? A few former NBA players could serve on the board, to give it allure...

This foundation could host basketball development clinics in Pyongyang, but only on the condition that North Korean teams participate in clinics and tournaments outside the country as well, and at no cost to North Korea. You want basketball diplomacy? Sure, we'll fund an all-expenses-paid trip for three weeks for North Korean basketball teams to attend a camp and tournament on the beach at Waikiki. Tournaments in Sydney, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Manila, etc, could be held. I would even suggest a game at the joint security area in Panmunjom between a Korean people's army team and other national military teams, along with a game featuring mixed teams and players from the North Korean national team and NBA players. If Kim wants basketball diplomacy, I say: "Bring it on!" [International Crisis Group]

The Rodman-Kim bromance has been loads of fun, says Chris Chase at USA Today. "They play basketball with weird rules! The craziest basketball player ever is drinking with a dictator! He wore a pink cravat while toasting him!" But this has gone far enough. It's understandable that Rodman, who has been irrelevant for more than a decade, would want to prolong his sudden return to the spotlight. There's no excuse for the rest of us to take him, or his methods, seriously, though.

Nothing about Kim and the way his family has ruled North Korea is funny. Rodman trivializes the country's problems.

You know the old proverb about children being seen, not heard. Overgrown children with tattoos and lip rings should be neither. [USA Today]

Dennis Rodman can talk all he wants, says Emily Senger at Maclean's, but he's in a little over his head. Kim insists that he doesn't really want war, but North Korean state media is quoting him threatening to "wipe out" South Korea's Baengnyeong island, which sits just off North Korea's shoreline. He's also telling his troops to be ready to attack South Korea any time.

If Kim changes his position that he "doesn't want to fight" and decides that he does, indeed, want to fight by restarting the Korean War, Rodman might want to rethink those summer vacation plans. [Maclean's]

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

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