Tuesday, August 4, 2009

"Private" Diplomacy: Following Clinton Visit, North Korea Pardons U.S. Journalists

Today, Bill Clinton met with Kim Jong Il and other North Korean officials during what the White House has described as a "private" mission. Hours after their meeting, North Korea has reportedly pardoned two United States journalists that were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for allegedly committing "hostile acts" against the country (thanks to The Common Room for the tip).

Earlier today, I argued that describing Clinton's visit a "private" mission is less than honest. Given Clinton's status as a former president and Hillary Clinton's status as the current Secretary of State (not to mention the strained relations between the United States and North Korea), his visit definitely has diplomatic overtones, and it was possibly designed for that purpose. John Bolton, former Ambassador to the United Nations, agrees, but he concludes that the mission was "unwise." In a Washington Post op-ed, Bolton argues that:
[T]he Clinton trip is a significant propaganda victory for North Korea, whether
or not he carried an official message from President Obama. Despite decades of
bipartisan U.S. rhetoric about not negotiating with terrorists for the release
of hostages, it seems that the Obama administration not only chose to negotiate,
but to send a former president to do so.
I certainly lack the ability to predict the impact that Clinton's visit will have on United States national security, and Bolton seems to concede his inability to do so as well. And while I am reluctant to embrace Bolton's gloomy forecast, I agree with his observation that billing the mission as a private venture does not separate it from United States foreign affairs.


Headmistress, zookeeper said...

Professor, if you've not seen it already you might like Jake Tapper's interview with former Bush Ambassador to North Korea, Jack Pritchard. They agree with you:
"Tapper: The White House says that this was entirely a personal mission by President Clinton but in President Clinton’s written statement today, he said he went at the behest of the families, Al Gore and the White House. If the White House is asking him to go, how is it just a personal mission?

Pritchard: Yeah, it’s not a personal mission. Now clearly the administration wanted to insulate themselves. They wanted in the public’s and particularly in the North Koreans’ mind for this to be seen a separate issue other than the nuclear issue that’s going on. And this is a way to say that, no, he’s not there to negotiate about the nuclear issue. He’s not there on behalf of the United States in terms of official capacity. He’s there – yes, we want him to go – but he’s there on a humanitarian mission. I think he made that very clear himself as well."

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Thanks for the link. Perhaps the White House is the only segment of "society" pushing the private angle.

Anonymous said...

Bolton must be aware that North Korea doesn't have a monolithic power structure and that Clinton's presence may have provided KJI with a reason to release the two American journalists (?) / abductees, even if he did not order their detention in the first place. I don't think it's clear that Bolton actually thinks KJI ordered the abductions and is being rewarded - he's just spinning the Clinton visit for his own reasons.

Decidere said...

Bolton is an idiot. We've had 8 years of "we will not bargain", used frequently in defiance of reality and the facts. Our labeling of Ahmadinejad as part of the Axis of Evil only made him more popular and valuable. We replaced a relatively inexpensive overflight program with Iraq with a hugely expensive occupation of a nation. We replaced an inexpensive blackmail payoff for reactors in North Korea with North Korea abandoning cooperation and continuing with its nuclear and missile programs. We didn't "bargain" with China, but they sent our spy plane home in boxed pieces and the crew home humiliated. Not only do we bargain with terrorists though, we became China's ally against Uyghurs and Russia's ally against Chechens. Not to mention our other compromises in Central Asia and the Middle East so they could torture for us in illegal "extraordinary" renditions. If we had bargained with the Taliban better, we quite conceivably could have gotten Bin Laden. Instead we liked the macho John Bolton approach, bludgeon and treaten. Works when you hold all the aces and there are no trumps. Not the case usually in the real world.

So yeah, I'll take some lightly battered "not really negotiating" negotiation with terrorists. Here's hoping they pull off a deal with Castro soon as well, the embargo being another right-wing intransigent idiocy that just won't go away.

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