North Korea: Seeking significance

Will Bill Clinton's visit to North Korea produce "unexpected dividends"?

It may have looked like “a humanitarian mission,” said former U.N. ambassador John Bolton in The Washington Post, but it was an act of surrender. President Bill Clinton received a hero’s welcome last week when he returned from North Korea with two freed American journalists. But this naïve bit of presidential bowing and scraping—approved by President Obama—conferred some desperately needed legitimacy on Kim Jong Il, and created a powerful incentive for other rogue regimes to kidnap Americans in the future. Kim had obviously planned to release these women all along, said Christopher Hitchens in That’s why Laura Ling and Euna Lee came home in far better shape than the poor souls who are starved and beaten in North Korea’s gulags—or even than North Korean civilians, whose average height is six inches shorter than that of their southern neighbors. By giving this vile tyrant a propaganda victory, Clinton “can now claim to have reduced the North Korean prison population by exactly two.” It was “a lousy day’s work.”

What was the alternative? said Douglas Paal in The New York Times. As a foreign-policy advisor to the last three Republican presidents, I carry no water for Presidents Obama and Clinton, but in this case I think they got it right, saving two young women from 12 unimaginable years of hard labor while keeping “America’s dignity intact.” The backdrop, of course, is the ongoing effort to persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear-weapons program, and with negotiations stalled in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion, this unexpected moment of civilized contact may “produce unexpected dividends.” And all for the cost of a photo-op, said the Toronto National Post in an editorial. If anything, this incident has made the North Koreans look like “pathetic losers” who “can be placated with the diplomatic equivalent of a cameo celebrity walk-on.”

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