Wednesday, August 5, 2009

North Korean hostages

What to make of the two female reporters who were released by the North Korean government as a goodwill gesture after Bill Clinton's sudden appearance in Pyongyang? It is certainly good that the women were allowed to leave, but the political farce is likely just beginning. The North Korean media have reported that, as a sign of their magnanimity after Clinton apologized on behalf of the US, they granted a pardon to the women. The Obama administration has stated that this was a private visit by former President Clinton and that there were no messages - and therefore no apology - delivered from the administration.

First, it is impossible that Clinton went to North Korea without the full knowledge and approval of the Obama administration. Clearly a deal was worked out beforehand that his simply showing up for essentially a photo op was sufficient to have the reporters released. So what do the two sides gain from it? Obviously, North Korea gets pictures of Bill Clinton sitting (rather stone-faced) next to Dear Leader and to trumpet that the women were pardoned after Clinton apologized (for what?!). Nobody except the North Koreans (and likely not even a majority of them) believe the propaganda put out by the Dear Leader and his cronies but it makes for a lot of publicity. Essentially, they have proven Hillary's point that they were nothing more than a whiny child wanting attention. And the best way to get back at her for such comments was to have her husband go and kowtow down to them (regardless of whatever spin anyone puts on it on the US side). It seems it worked rather well for North Korea.

For the US, the only true benefit seems to have been the release of the two women. The Obama administration can protest all it wants that it was not involved but no one outside of the deliberately obtuse will rationally believe it. The logistics alone preclude that as a possibility (the South Koreans have their fishing ships taken prisoner for straying into North Korean waters, so how would a US airplane get to Pyongyang without prior agreement?). It is highly unlikely that any apology was delivered and almost as likely that any message was delivered by Clinton himself. If any message was delivered, it was during the negotiations leading up to Clinton's visit. But, the US does stand somewhat humiliated by this action. Now, any country that wants to get US attention simply has to get its hands on some US nationals and then make whatever demands they want. In the eyes of most Americans - and I am not offering judgment one way or another - a single American life is worth more than a hundred from almost any other nation. (If you don't believe it, ask anyone how many US service members have been killed in Iraq, then ask them how many Iraqis.) So, want to distract attention from the nuclear proliferation issue, just capture a few American civilians and then you can distract them with loud calls about how they're going to be punished and everyone will demand that the government cave in to whatever demands to get them released.

Say, come to think of it, this sounds like Iran now (except they have three instead of two).

And in both cases, how exactly did they end up in North Korea or Iran, anyway?

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