Friday 7 August 2009

Every nation has its share of heroes and bungling fools

There can be no doubt in the minds of freedom-thinking people that North Korea is being run by an egomaniac. The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il’s conduct in world affairs certainly fits into that definition. But then we said that about the leader of Libya, Muammar al-Gaddafi. He has appeared to be attempting to improve his image in the West. Two years prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Libya pledged its commitment to fighting Al-Qaeda and offered to open up its weapons programme to international inspection. Following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein by US forces in 2003, Gaddafi announced that his nation had active weapons of mass destruction but was willing to allow international inspectors into his country to observe and dismantle them.

Kim Jong-il it would appear, is building an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and no amount of threatening seems to as of yet, deter him from moving ahead with that agenda. It goes without saying that the United States is his loudest critic. It also goes without saying that up to very recently, the relationship between North Korea and the United States was at one of its lowest points.

And then, along came the incident in which two American journalists who supposedly, accidentally ventured into North Korea. As to be expected, they were captured, tried and sentenced to twelve years imprisonment at hard labour. Kim Jong il intended to show the United States as to who is the boss in his country. But I am forced to ask this rhetorical question; would he find a way to sooth the ruffled feathers of the Americans if per chance, an opportunity to do so would arise?

With the full support of President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the former U.S. President Bill Clinton traveled to Pyongyang to free the two young American women who had so far, been imprisoned for over five months. We saw pictures of Clinton being greeted warmly at the airport by North Korean officials and he and Kim Jong il sitting across a negotiating table and later, the two of them sitting side by side in a formal pose. President Obama appropriately thanked him publicly "for the extraordinary humanitarian effort that resulted in the release of the two journalists."

I can remember when the relationship between China and the United States was at its worst. Then President Nixon had an idea. He arranged to send an American ping pong team to China to compete against a Chinese ping pong team. It worked. I forget who won the tournament but it opened the doors between the two countries which have been open ever since.

You may recall that the title of this essay states that every nation has its share of heroes and bungling fools. Well, in this instance, former president Clinton is the hero and John Bolton, the former U. S. ambassador to the UN and an outspoken hard-liner in the previous administration of George W. Bush is the bungling fool. He said Mr. Clinton's mission to Pyongyang undermined a number of public stands held by his own wife, U. S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. His comment was in part; "I think this is a very bad signal because it does exactly what we always try and avoid doing with terrorists or with rogue states in general, and that's encouraging their bad behaviour."

In a U. S. television interview on July 26th, Ms. Clinton warned North Korea that even its traditional allies had turned against it and that the Communist state's rogue behaviour would no longer "be rewarded." He also said, “Well, obviously everybody is happy to get them out. But, you know we have had in this country for decades, literally decades, a bipartisan policy of not negotiating with terrorists. And a reason for that policy, particularly in a hostage situation, is that you don’t want to encourage those terrorists or other terrorists to think that Americans are on the bargaining block — that if they can kidnap a few they will be rewarded for it.”

Mr. Bolton further scoffed at the White House's contention that Mr. Clinton's visit was "solely a private mission" when he said: "This is a former president who is married to the Secretary of State. There's nothing private about this." He also said that the visit also undermines Ms. Clinton's public remarks in which she separates the case of the two journalists from efforts to force North Korea to return to six-party nuclear disarmament talks. He further said, "Hillary has said she wanted to differentiate the two, but Bill Clinton was met at the airport by Kim Kye-Gwan, who is the lead and has been for 15 years or more the lead North Korean nuclear negotiator." unquote

He added it "it is hard to imagine that Mr. Clinton did not talk about the nuclear issue when he had dinner with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, given the nuclear negotiations that Mr. Clinton pursued when he was president in the 1990s.” unquote He doesn’t know what talks may have occurred between Clinton and Kim Kye-Gwan so his comment was premature, if not stupid to boot.

According to John Bolton, now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, tells Madeleine Brand, the symbolism of a former president going to meet with Kim Jong Il, I think is something that benefits Kim Jong Il a lot more than the United States, and it only encourages others to do the same thing." Bolton called the visit a "knee-jerk impulse for negotiations" and "poorly thought-out gesture politics." He also said, "You can bet that in Tehran they watched this little performance in North Korea and are no doubt calculating how they might use it to their advantage." He added that talking to North Korea is futile because over a course of nearly two decades, Pyongyang pledged four times to abandon its nuclear program. He says that even when it pledged in 1994 to abandon its program in exchange for concessions from the U.S. and its allies, there was an almost immediate violation of the pledge. He is correct on that point.

Actually, Clinton had hoped to make a triumphant trip to North Korea shortly before leaving office in 2001 after his secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, was said to have been close to an agreement over North Korea's missiles. As part of that unfolding agreement, Mr. Clinton was to have travelled to the reclusive dictatorial state, giving the North Korean leader the kind of high-level American attention he had always craved. Unfortunately the deal fell through, so Clinton’s role as president was turned over to George W. Bush and the diplomatic negotiations were quickly halted by Bush officials who felt the Clinton administration had gone soft on North Korea.

The North Korean news agency, KCNA, said Clinton had "candid and in-depth discussions on the pending issues between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the U. S. in a sincere atmosphere and reached a consensus of views on seeking a negotiated settlement of them." I should point out that the United States has been a part of six-party talks in dealing with North Korea, while Pyongyang has longed to have negotiations directly with Washington.

Clinton followed in the footsteps of other unofficial U. S. envoys such as civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, former president Jimmy Carter and Bill Richardson, the New Mexico Governor, in trying to unwind a continuing international problem without the official imprimatur of the White House. It follows that there is legitimacy in the assumption that Clinton had been fully briefed on developments in North Korea, given his close ties to the Obama administration.

There is no doubt that one of the very positive roles that former President Clinton can play in North Korea and elsewhere is that he is extremely popular in many parts of the world. He can play a role of tamping down tensions ---- almost playing good cop, bad cop if you will. He's a good negotiator, a good talker. People enjoy dealing with him because he's very personable. He does make you feel like you're the only person in the room. It is a shame that his affair with the White House intern and a few other affairs have marred his otherwise impressive record.

Mr. Clinton may provide a counter-balance to comments by his wife, who angered the North Koreans in July by saying the North's testing of a nuclear device and firing of ballistic missiles reminded her of "small children and unruly teenagers and people who are demanding attention." That statement was a bit foolish.

Former President Clinton's visit to North Korea, where he secured the release of two American journalists held for nearly five months, will only embolden other countries to do the same thing North Korea did, according to a former U.S. envoy to the United Nations; that is, treat him with the respect he deserves as a world diplomat.

Clinton wasn’t the only person who made an unexpected visit to a dictator. On April 19, 1945, literally days before the end of World War II, Norbert Masur, a German-born representative of the Swedish section of the World Jewish Congress, flew from Stockholm to Berlin for a secret meeting with Heinrich Himmler, the head of Nazi Germany's notorious SS. The trip had been arranged with the full knowledge and approval of the Swedish Foreign Ministry. On the plane, Masur later wrote, "I had time to think about the mission. For me as a Jew, it was a deeply moving thought, that, in a few hours, I would be face to face with the man who was primarily responsible for the destruction of several million Jewish people. But my agitation was dampened by the thought that I finally would have the important opportunity to be of help to many of my tormented fellow Jews."

More than two days later, in the early hours of April 21, Masur met with Himmler for two and a half hours at an estate near the German capital and negotiated the release of more than 1,000 Jews from the concentration camp of Ravensbrück. A Jew had risked his life to sit with one of the greatest mass murderers of all times in order to save other Jews, other fellow human beings, from death.

On December 29, 1983, Reverend Jesse Jackson flew to Damascus and successfully appealed to Syrian President Hafez al-Assad to release U.S. Navy Lieutenant Robert O. Goodman Jr. who had been shot down earlier that month while on a bombing mission against Syrian anti-aircraft installations. Five hours after their return to American soil on January 3, 1984, Goodman and Jackson were greeted warmly at the White House by President Reagan. Jackson's mission, President Reagan said, "was a personal mission of mercy, and he has earned our gratitude and our admiration."

In 1940 and 1941, Varian Fry and the Emergency Rescue Committee, with the help of Hiram Bingham IV, the U.S. vice consul in Marseilles, smuggled more than 2,000 anti-Fascist writers, artists and other intellectuals out of Vichy France to safety.
President Clinton's mission to North Korea must be viewed in the context of these and similar historical events.

Bolton position in the rescue of the two Americans is wrong. His apparent readiness to abandon Laura Ling and Euna Lee in a North Korean gulag is both callous and morally appalling. This was the comments by a man who said at an earlier time, “There is no such thing as the United Nations. There is only the international community, which can only be led by the only remaining superpower, which is the United States.” Such a vision by a man whose comments are contemptible doesn’t need further comment.

If John Bolton deserves anything in this life, it’s our contempt. Well it’s certainly good to know that the ridiculous ramblings of a fascist jingoist like Bolton are ignored and mocked at now in the Obama era. During the interview Bolton had with Jon Stewart, the host of The Daily Show, he had the audacity to state that only one nation should have nuclear weapons instead of getting rid of them all. As far as he was concerned, only the United States should possess nuclear weapons. Such a proposal hardly endears other nations towards the United States. They could construe such a policy as being not unlike the town’s bully being the only one that is permitted to have a gun in his own possession.

John Bolton was appointed by President George W. Bush (another loser) as the interim ambassador to the United Nations. Unable to have his nomination overcome a veto-proof majority of 60 votes in the Senate because of his history of being a bully, Bolton served his ambassadorship as a recess appointment from August 2005 to December 2006. Shortly thereafter, Bush and the Republicans suffered from the humiliation of the Democrats regaining both houses of Congress so Bolton’s term was cut short. Bolton was actually one of the few people in history not to win the Senate confirmation as ambassador to the United Nations.

I don’t know if Clinton’s visit to North Korea will reap the rewards that everyone hopes will come about but at least, he has opened a door to the North Korean leader that may open even wider if North Korea can work out a deal that will satisfy all the nations with respect to its nuclear armaments.

No comments: