Belated Thoughts on the Dear Leader

Posted: August 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Foreign Policy, Journalism | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

I’ve been thinking for a few days that I wanted to say something about Bill Clinton’s 11th hour trip to North Korea to negotiate the release of two American journalists held hostage by Kim Jong Il’s honchos.

While everyone’s thrilled that the journos are back safe, there has been much handwringing about whether it was acceptable to have a former President meet with a brutal dictator who routinely calls for this country’s demise, to have the two sit for joint photos and a meal, and whether, as some sources said, Clinton had given any sort of ‘apology,’ on behalf of the United States for the two women having entered NK to begin with. (It seems like he gave some verbal apology but did not bring any message on behalf of the government).

Personally, my relief at seeing the two journos come home rather outweighed any cringe reaction I had to the photographs.├é┬áMoreover, when it comes to the actual fact of Clinton’s going there and answering Il’s request for the backchannel, I was pleased. See, by throwing a tantrum that effectively said “I want attention from a popular ex-leader,” Kim Jong Il acknowledged that he wants access to things of value in the international community, ie the status conferred by a meeting with Bill, and that his power domestically is in some way contingent on having that access. That means he can be bought.

That is, in essence, what Hillary Clinton meant when she compared NK to a petulant child begging for attention and suggested that it needed to be dealt with forcefully. Granted, force is the opposite of what Bill brought them last week, but the point is this: a regime that wants something from the United States is one that can be bargained with. The purpose of force, if it needs to be used, or Hillary’s strong language, is to push that regime to the point where the price at which it can be bought in bargaining is something we can stomach. Dinner with an ex-President, especially if it keeps that ex-President out of other people’s bedrooms, is a perfectly fine price for me.