Thursday, August 13, 2009

Pyongyang raincheck

Which to talk about first, (North)Korea or "Israel"? That is my dilemma today, upon finishing Madeleine Albright's excellent book Madam Secretary. I bought the book when it first came out six years ago, went to her book signing in Boston, and told her she was awesome. But I haven't got around to reading it until now. In some ways, that may be good: even more hindsight about the historical events of the 1990s. God do I miss the Clinton Administration. Life was better then. Easier, too. But that's not the point here.

Recently, as those of you who do not live under a rock know, Bill Clinton went to Korea and returned with the two journalists who had been convicted of illegally crossing the border from China into (North)Korea. While they were in captivity, everyone's opinion here in these United States seemed to be that it was terrible for them to be in a North Korean prison -- because! sputter! they're AMERicans! omg! -- and they should be released. (What benevolent thoughts, if any, there were toward the Korean prisoners in North Korea went sort of unmentioned.) Now that the two women have been released, some people are criticizing the Clintons for getting it done. Of course, one of the main voices to speak out against the triumphant return last week was former "ambassador"to the U.N. John Bolton, who would be such a miscreant joke were he not absurdly given actual power in the international scene, so it's not like we have to take that criticism terribly seriously. Why does anyone even publish his editorial, that's what I want to know. I was thrilled when Hillary laughed at the mere mention of his name.

But here's my point: Bill Clinton, as it turns out, owed (North) Korea a visit! I know, right? Who knew? In Madam Secretary, Albright chronicles her diplomatic efforts during the Bill Clinton Administration vis-a-vis Bosnia, Kosovo, Israel/Palestine, and others, including their efforts with both (South)Korean president Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-Il. Albright herself went to Pyongyang and met with Kim Jong Il. Turns out, she discovered, he was a perfectly intelligent and articulate person with whom she could converse and not the raving lunatic many make him out to be. Gee, what a shocker: a biased account of another country's leader by the U.S. media? A situation seriously misunderstood by the West? Why, I never!!

After Albright's visit, the wheels were in motion for Bill to visit, and he was willing to make that trip. Please go back and read that sentence if you missed it. While still President, Bill Clinton was planning to visit North Korea, was deeply engaged in diplomacy with North Korea, and cancelled at the last minute because, to quote Albright, he felt he had to choose between a trip to North Korea. "and a crash effort to reach closure with the Israelis and Palestinians." It was the end of 2000, and time was running out on the Clinton I Administration.

Yeah ugh. Because we all know how well that "crash effort" worked out. (But if you don't, stay tuned - I'll blog about Israel/occupied Palestine tomorrow.)

I remember the "sunshine policy" and the diplomacy, back in the days before the asinine "Axis of Evil" comment. But I learned from reading Madam Secretary about the details of the interactions and the summit-being-planned that Clinton had to kind of ditch out of of at the last minute. Basically, until this month he owed (North)Korea a visit. And I think it's fantastic that it worked out as well as it did, with a happy ending for Laura Ling and Euna Lee, to boot.

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