Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Why President Clinton's Trip is Not Appeasement

About a decade late, but former President Bill Clinton is finally heading to North Korea. Not to secure the country's nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles programs, but to noblely win the release of two captured American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee -- as if the outcome was uncertain with another former president heading over there:
The Obama administration is rewarding North Korea for its bad behavior by sending ex-president Bill Clinton to Pyongyang to win the release of two US journalists, the former US ambassador to the UN said Tuesday.

John Bolton, an outspoken hardliner in the previous administration of George W. Bush, told AFP that Clinton's mission to Pyongyang undermines a number of public stands held by his own wife, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"It comes perilously close to negotiating with terrorists," Bolton told AFP when asked about Bill Clinton's trip to secure the release of journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee ("Bill Clinton rewarding NKorea for bad behavior: Bolton" : Agence France-Presse)

While in principle I've always been a supporter of John Bolton even when he fell out with the George W. Bush administration when the administration did its sudden U-turn on its North Korean policy, I wouldn't believe it to be as bad as Bolton makes it out to be (yes, from one angle, it's a form of appeasement, but to rigidly be against a policy just because of it's name is a strike against common sense and an exercise in sheer stupidity) and considering how things currently are I think its realistically the most the U.S. can ask for.

Yes, while sending another former U.S. (Democratic) President to North Korea definitely looks bad as the U.S. seems to continually be rewarding North Korea for bad behavior -- bad behavior in the sense that North Korean behavior has led to sanctions on at least two different occasions by the United Nations Security Council, after mostly being championed by the U.S. And, sending a former President after the country allegedly explodes a couple nuclear devices definitely sends the wrong signal if the U.S. is against accepting North Korea as a nuclear state.

But realistically, and and I think this is where George W. Bush's North Korea policy was such a failure in its first administration, considering what the U.S. can actually do with respect to North Korea this is the best the U.S. can ask for. I mean with President Obama currently occupied with his domestic agenda and perhaps even the fate of his Presidency as the latest issue of the Economist points out:
"IF THE opinion polls are to be believed, Barack Obama is now, six months into his presidency, no more popular than George Bush or Richard Nixon were at the same stage in theirs" ("Crunch time" : The Economist)
Moreover, as the current U.S. President's attention is largely preoccupied by domestic concerns, such as healthcare, and as the six-party talks have died, there is no longer a readily agreeable forum for which North Korea and the U.S. can talk. So, I think sending former President Bill Clinton, who unlike former President Carter in 1994 was not married to then serving U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, will hopefully facilitate progress to be made on the more pressing issues of denuclearization, a peace treaty to a war that's lasted for more than half a century, and the division of a country. By this, I mean that these talks may lead to the creation of goodwill between the two sides and create new channels of communication (On a side note, I wonder if kidnapped Japanese or South Korean nationals will at all be mentioned as the two captured American journalists regain their freedom. My guess is not).

Perhaps, in this case, appeasement is the right way to go.

Though, if you look at U.S. actions in its entirety, appeasement would not be the right word to use. Recall, how the U.S. conducted it's own successful ballistic missile weapons test and, more recently, the successful missile defense test of weapons for all intent and purposes were supposed to simulate the missiles North Korea fired on the 4th of July:
"An Aegis-class U.S. naval ship then fired an interceptor missile, which struck the target about 160 km above the earth. The process -- from launch to shoot-down -- took less than five minutes" ("U.S. declares success in missile defense test" : Xinhua).


  1. After reading your post, I think you missed my point; there's no plan B aside from war and the U.S. already tried the "do nothing" option - remember CVID? (read "A Long Road to Pyongyang" in Foreign Affairs Nov/Dec 2007. it goes in detail about what can happen when the U.S. doesn't have a policy at all). And, it's easy to pinpoint one small aspect of a much larger spectrum of events that are going on and to make some assertion as John Bolton does (although with respect to him, I believe it's of a different nature than most of these "expert" pundits might come out to call what a former Democratic president, and Bill Clinton, does appeasement).

    Like I said, you should take what Clinton is doing in the entirety of U.S. actions with respect to North Korea. The U.S. as I posted has made it quite clear to North Korea (and which mainstream U.S. media does not seem to cover), in the case of a military conflict what would happen -- the successful testing of U.S. missile defense (I believe an article from Wired Magazine reported it was only the 2nd successful shootdown of a missile in its ascent phase) and the successful testing of U.S. ballistic missiles, following North Korean tests, that successfully hit multiple targets 4,200 miles away...

    Again, President Obama is limited in what he can do, like all U.S. presidents before him, short of launching airstrikes/going to war. But, even here, the U.S. did a lot -- at least got George W. Bush's Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) in writing. And, at every turn, the U.S. "engaged" North Korea from strength.

    If you haven't noticed (as most in the U.S. probably wouldn't have), North Korea went the full sprectrum to try and attract U.S. attention. From threatening the use of roadside bombs in a potential war with the U.S. (you can dig this up on any AP news search, for U.S. domestic audience absportion), cyberattacks, sentenced two female investigative reporters to ridiculous sentences, etc...

    Considering all that, that is why I'm not saying it's really appeasement. Had this been the case with let's say a different country, such as Iran and let's say the U.S. did exactly what the U.K. did when Iran took British citizens(subjects?) prisoner, I would call that appeasement.

  2. You write: "But I consider Clinton’s mission—at least the way it looks on the surface—honorable enough: Just get the reporters freed, and get the hell outa there."

    I don't consider it honorable at all; I consider it understandable and regrettably so given the state of how things are over there in that part of the world.

    But, it's what's under the surface that actually gives this policy some traction.

  3. Han, With regard to your 1st comment: I don't think I misunderstood you. With regard to your 2nd comment: Was I ignoring the big picture? Maybe for a second, and deliberately so. But I certainly don't mean to diminish what N. Korea has done over the decades, especially since the time Clinton was in the White House. Believe me, I give him no credit in his bungled dealing with N. Korea in the 90's, nor his failed Sec of State Madeline Albright.

    We'll have to disagree about the honorability of Clinton's trip. If you read my blog, you'll be hard-pressed to find *any* time when I praise Bill Clinton! But I still thought this one particular mission was honorable, and now with the hindsight of knowing that he managed to get Ling and Lee freed, I'm still of that opinion. With the exception for that one point, I think you and I are pretty much on the same page.

    The Jewish Republican's Web Sanctuary

  4. Regarding what the term "entirety," what I mostly mean are those actions that the U.S. does as a "normal" state that just aren't covered by the mainstream U.S. press (incl. right and, perhaps, left-of-center) sources, such as a ballistic missiles test, following the DPRK's test.

    With respect to honorability, it's a purely subjective thing. But hey, North Korea got what it wanted: As I was walking to and fro today, every U.K. daily had the picture of those two female, American journalists.