Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Big Dawg!

Long time readers of this blog, and friends of Actor212, know that I am in the tank for former President Bill "Greatest. President. Ever." Clinton.
So it should come as no surprise that today's column will be about The Big Dog.

You'd need to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the sight of Laura Ling and Euna Lee coming off that plane yesterday.

During those moments, as the two journalists embraced their families for the first time in nearly five months, questions about diplomacy and politics seemed to vanish. They were two human beings, caught at the wrong time in the wrong place, spared 12 years of hard labor and back on their native soil. Laura Ling's choked-up words of gratitude just added to the drama.

Clinton was asked in by his former Vice President (and former friend, apparently) and Nobel Prize Winner Al Gore, the employer of the two captured and convicted journalists. This was in an unofficial capacity, to be sure, although one suspects that a former President and husband of the current Secretary of State would not lightly be sent into enemy territory without a full briefing by the White House and State Department, as well as a shopping list to present to Kim Jong Il.
So we'll call it a happy accident of circumstance and individual. If anyone could bring North Korea to the table, it had to be Bill Clinton.
It's been interesting over the past thirty years to see how ex-Presidents handle themselves in private life. Clinton (and now Obama) is a relatively young man and has one would hope a long retirement to assist the nation he lifted out of economic depression and turmoil-- apart from his own character flaws, of course. He's committed to his foundation, which is trying to bring smart solutions to intractable problems like malaria and hunger.
Jimmy Carter, of course, has his Habitat for Humanity, building homes for the poor, bringing onwership and a sense of community to people without hope and with despair.
Even George HW Bush has been committed to foreign policy solutions and to being a globe trotting goodwill ambassador for American interests and enterprise. No, not precisely a giving cause, but it promotes some of the good qualities America has: a can-do attitude, a willingness to step in and grab an opportunity to fix things.
Ronald Reagan rode a horse. George W Bush bought an apartment in Houston.
And now Bill Clinton is saving Americans. Whoda thunk?
It was done without threats, without sabre-rattling, without hectoring from the White House. It was done sotto voce, respecting that even a knuckleheaded moron like Kim deserves to be treated as the head of a sovereign nation, no matter how despicable we may perceive him or how much we would like to remove him from office.
Clinton, former President of the United States and ex-officio member of the State Department inner circle, apologized, or so it has been reported by the North Korean press agencies (the government, basically).
The diplomatic signals the trip sent-- for example, he was greeted at Pyongyang airport by North Korea's top negotiator on its nuclear program-- are intriguing and this mission does give the North a propaganda victory, to be sure. And an "apology" by a former President, however couched in vague generalizations and as subject to multiple interpretations as it may have been, is a small humiliation for a superpower.  
After all, if you were held in a hostile nation whether you earned it or not, you'd want to know that your government isn't worried about saving face in its efforts to return you safely, and given the eight years we've spent calling this nation "evil" and Satanic and who knows what else, however true it was, we sort of deserved to have the chip on our shoulders knocked off.
I think the way this will play out is a good one for America, for Barack Obama and for the Clintons. After all, who hasn't seen the video of Laura Ling talking about her reaction when she saw Bill Clinton standing there in the room where she was told of the release? Who hasn't imagined, even briefly, that powerful feeling that Clinton appeared as Superman, rescuing her?
And I think it signals a willingness on the part of the Obama administration to continue the Clinton doctrine of engagement, but not appeasement, which worked so well in Iraq, and Iran (where we actually saw moderate presidents elected!), and even in Korea, where we saw actual progress towards a working agreement on nukes, albeit one that Kim tested regularly.
Which is a good thing.