Daniel W. Drezner

Quick hits on the Clinton field trip to North Korea

You’d think I would have something very deep to say about former President Clinton’s recent excursion to Pyongyang to secure the release of two U.S. journalists.  Well, I have four reactions, but I’m not sure how deep they are:  Man, the North Koreans love backchannels more than Henry Kissinger.  They love backchannels more than MTV ...

You’d think I would have something very deep to say about former President Clinton’s recent excursion to Pyongyang to secure the release of two U.S. journalists.  Well, I have four reactions, but I’m not sure how deep they are: 

  1. Man, the North Koreans love backchannels more than Henry Kissinger.  They love backchannels more than MTV loves stupid reality shows involving washed-up former rockers.  They love backchannels more than Obama loves teachable moments.  They love backchannels more than Ryan O’Neal loves hi–[We get the point–ed.  Right, sorry.] The North Korean government has always used unofficial interlocutors to communicate with the United States when things get tough and they want a way out.  I’m curious what their message was on the nuclear issue.
  2. While the DPRK might like private communications, Bill Clinton is no Jimmy Carter.  Carter went on CNN in 1994 to announce the outlines of a nuclear deal with North Korea without fully briefing the Clinton administration.  Clinton clearly remembers that experience.
  3. At the end of the day, the two journalists were released without any change in official U.S. policy.  A fake apology from a former U.S. president might be worth something in Pyongyang, but it doesn’t really amount to much.
  4. My visceral reaction to Clinton and his delegation sitting with Kim Jong Il posing for a formal photograph was one of complete and utter revulsion.  I don’t think Clinton apologized, but in many ways this looks worse. 

Foreign policy should be conducted free of emotion, so I’m hoping that this feeling will fade fast.  I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one who had this reaction, however.  I’m therefoe betting that beyond providing fodder for Maureen Dowd during the dog days of August, this little rescue mission is going to complicate nuclear diplomacy with North Korea for a spell. 

 Twitter: @dandrezner

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