Bill Clinton Scores Big Points in North Korea and Obama Land


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Here are my thoughts from an exchange with Keith Olbermann on Bill Clinton’s surprise trip to Pyongyang to secure the release of journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling.
— Steve Clemons


22 comments on “Bill Clinton Scores Big Points in North Korea and Obama Land

  1. Margaret says:

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  2. jessica says:

    Thoughts from an exchange with Keith Olbermann..
    Its nice to know bout this..
    No Credit Checks instant Payday Loans


  3. David says:

    The standard fare from the major media has always been that it was necessary to prevent 100,000 American soldiers from perishing in an invasion. What invasion? Why in hell invade? We had them defeated. We knew it, they knew it. Christ, when I was still in high school I realized the absurdity of the standard argument. But apparently not 2/3 of my fellow Americans.
    I have also experienced the chillingly casual reference by fellow educators to the idea of reducing their country (whoever was the demon-du-jour) to a sheet of glass. All I could think was what a display of an infantile intellect saturated with ignorant testosterone.


  4. Outraged American says:

    Amen Downtown.


  5. Benjamin Ladner says:

    Clinton’s efforts certainly succeeded in breaking through the barrier behind which two Americans were unjustly held. The trip also represents a genuine diplomatic breakthrough. It shows that President Obama is willing to try new and creative diplomatic approaches. I recently discussed the broader significance of Clinton’s trip and what it may mean for the future of U.S. –North Korea relations. I hope you will visit my blog and share your thoughts on this use of “soft diplomacy”:


  6. downtown says:

    12:09PM :
    I travel in fairly liberal circles. Yet, I would be a wealthy man if I had a quarter for every time that I`ve heard someone casually voice the phrase: “Nuke `em”. Never have I heard this sentiment expressed by a non-American. Having been spared the agony of destruction of whole cities and loss of life in the millions, there is a false bravado infesting many an American`s psyche. The irony, of course, is that the destruction of a few blocks in downtown Manhattan brought us to the brink of martial law and allowed our government to impose restrictions bordering on paranoia, most of them virtually unopposed.


  7. Outraged American says:

    64th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and still
    Americans support that atrocity. And yet we wonder why
    “they”hate us…
    64 Years Later, US Support for Hiroshima Nuking Lingers
    Today, a poll by Quinnipiac University found that 61% of
    Americans felt the attack was “the right thing” while only 22%
    believe it was wrong…
    Former President Dwight Eisenhower said he believed the attack
    was “completely unneccesary,” adding that “Japan was, at that
    very moment, seeking some way to surrender.” President
    Truman’s Military Chief of Staff Admiral William Leahy said “the
    use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of
    no material assistance in our war against Japan,” Admiral Leahy
    also said “my own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we
    had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of
    the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and
    wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”
    Entire article


  8. daCascadian says:

    Jouralists have always been & will continue to be parties to intelligence gathering. It is, after all, what they do; gather information and pass it along. It really makes little difference who they work for in the larger scheme of things.
    As several folks hinted at above I am sure there is more to the story than the open news coverage has distributed. Bet on it. And, as always, be sure and ignore those folks behind the curtain with those strings in their hands.
    “…Poor traceability enables plausible deniability….” – Valdis Krebs
    [your Captcha is still broken & doesn`t know what it displays – second attempt]


  9. JohnH says:

    I watched the first part of Charlie Rose, which I missed earlier. Very interesting. There is even some substance!
    According to Martha Raddatz, once the North Koreans realized what they had, they began DEMANDING a meeting with Bill Clinton. It would be interesting to know exactly what North Korea had in Ling and Lee (simply journalists employed by Al Gore, or something more?) But they were big enough fish so that North Korea could seize the initiative and force the US’ hand. Part of what North Korea wanted was the ability to actually talk directly to the US without being subjected to the unproductive farce of the six party talks.
    To hear all the press reports, this was a big win for Clinton. It’s certainly possible that Clinton was able to convert a lousy hand into something significant and positive. What seems more certain is that North Korea got what it wanted, all because of who they had captured and their mysterious significance to the US government.


  10. downtown says:

    “Obama and the Clintons decided that it was worthwhile to salve Kim Jong-Il’s ego with a state visit ….. he was the prize for Kim”
    To anyone familiar with Far Eastern Culture, saving face is one of the most integral aspects of it. One does not corner an adversary, but provide him with an honorable way out of a quandary…even one of his own making. Our Bush/Cheney Wild West diplomacy did not play well at all in Japan, China and both Koreas. Kudos to those involved. Of course, a buffoon like John Bolton will always be unable to grasp cultural nuances. Why he maintains any shred of credibility with the mainstream media is a mystery to me.


  11. Paul Norheim says:

    John Bolton and his fellow travelers should go hang themselves
    from a bonsai tree – to paraphrase a recent op-ed.


  12. David says:

    Is there anyone at TWN who can put together some kind of concise summary of Bill Clinton/North Korea starting with his first initiative?
    POA, while I am still appalled by the death of 500,000 Iraqi children because of the sanctions, and was outraged when I learned Allbright said that was an ok price for innocent Iraqis to have to pay for whatever it was we were punishing Iraq for, it is of considerable significance that Obama and the Clintons decided that it was worthwhile to salve Kim Jong-Il’s ego with a state visit in exchange for the release of the two hostages.
    Regardless of what else Bill Clinton did, he was the prize for Kim, and we, meaning the Bush administration, turned North Korea into a far more dangerous nuclear power than it was before 2001. If this was the price required to turn that express to disaster around, it was a damned small price to pay.
    I think they were just two Current TV journalists who were perfect prey for Kim’s insistence on attention and the United States having to do something besides demonize him and set up North Korea the way the neocons set up Iraq for a military invasion and occupation.
    If Bill Clinton really is popular in North Korea, and he might well be, just as George Bush is anything but, only an idiot of a president would not exploit this opening, and it is a very large opening, considering who we are talking about here.
    John Bolton and his fellow travelers should feel free to go piss up a rope.


  13. JohnH says:

    Charlie Rose had a good segment on Bubba and Kim Jong Il today. What would be interesting to know is how the situation morphed. What started out as a couple of Al Gore’s employees (in whatever capacity they were employed) being detained and sentenced turned into a state dinner for Bubba, complete with the North’s nuclear negotiations team greeting him at the airport. When was the last time the leader of a foreign country threw a major state dinner as a result a capturing a couple suspicious journalists? And when was the last time a foreign former head of state went to receive the release of “journalists?” Who initially proposed turning the prisoner release into a Big Event honoring the former President? Was it the North Koreans or the US? And what exactly were the motivations on each side? There is a LOT of unexplained intrigue going on here, along with a LOT of dots missing from the PR driven explanations we’ve read to date.
    Sadly, it won’t be America’s “free press” that fills in the picture. That would take too much work.


  14. Pahlavan says:

    This is great internal PR benefiting our country as well as Bill Clinton perosnally. But when it comes to our foreign policy, the fundemental problem is still the fact that these innocent cute lady reporters documenting human rights abuses abroad are getting caught with sensative documents unrelated to civil or human rights. I can’t speak for sure about north Korea, but in Roxanna Saberi’s case, she had secret government documents in her position and was unable to give a logical explanation on how she obtained them in the first place. A fact that was never released here in our media, or we randomly discredit the facts as “oh they were tortured into saying that”. It’ll be good to see how Clinton’s move is going to play itself out in the weeks or months ahead.


  15. JohnH says:

    POA–You are right that the young women would not have had direct access to North Korean state secrets. But it’s easy enough to construct a straight forward scenario where Laura Ling provided the rationale for the mission (filming refugees along the North Korean border) while Euna Lee was involved in other activities. Some of the refugees may have had very interesting information or held useful positions before they fled. And maybe some of them were even in a position where they could return and provide a more regular stream of information.
    As far as I know, sending a former President to rescue two “journalists” is totally without precedent and inherently begs a lot of questions.
    And who knows the range of business activities that Al Gore’s Current TV is engaged in?


  16. Bart says:

    My theory is that Bill is jealous of Al Gore’s Nobel, and his effort will be to reunite the two Koreas and get a Nobel Peace Prize of his own.


  17. Outraged American says:

    Another reason why the Zionists need to STFU. Outrageous rape
    rates & massacre in the Congo. From the New York Slimes ( and
    of course, anyone only cares when it’s men being raped…)
    Off topic but what the hell…
    Symbol of Unhealed Congo: Male Rape Victims
    Excerpts from the NYT article:
    “But aid organizations say that the military maneuvers have
    provoked horrific revenge attacks, with more than 500,000
    people driven from their homes, dozens of villages burned and
    hundreds of villagers massacred, including toddlers thrown into
    open fires..”
    ” Hundreds of thousands of women have been sexually assaulted
    by the various warring militias haunting these hills, and right
    now this area is going through one of its bloodiest periods in
    Entire article


  18. Brian B says:

    I think something is being missed in this whole episode. The DPRK no longer holds any sway in the international arena. They no longer have the backing of China (despite humanitarian aid going to the DPRK to help smooth the political transition process once Kim Jung Il dies), the plots to conspire with regimes in Southeast Asia have been disrupted due to heavy surveillance and the UNSC has a binding Resolution against the DPRK. For the first time in a long time the DPRK recognises that it has no where to turn. If the DPRK has any hopes of making their despotic and reclusive regime last it was in their best interest to show some type of humanitarian gesture. And what better country to do this with than the United States.
    With respect to the hawks talking point of “rewarding bad behavior”, this seems like a moot point. The neo-con policy died with the election in 2008. The hawks should see that the DPRK’s nuclear threats are futile despite the fact that they may develop delivery capability. Again, it goes back to the question of whether or not the regime wants to survive. What happened, I believe, was in no way a capitulation to the DPRK regime by the Obama adminstration. No one in the international community, or the Party of Six for that matter, is putting up with the DPRK. Yes, they kick and fuss so that they can get some attention, but the same behavior is done by all desperate regimes. But how is military action going to resolve the matter? (If the DPRK falls we might just have another problem on our hands negotiating territorial disputes between Russia, China and South Korea over territorial disputes) It seems that the hawks just want confrontation rather than engagement at all cost, despite all their fail efforts under the Bush 43 administration.
    President Obama has saved 3 American hostages thus far. Back channel engagement rather than full throated confrontation is seeming to win the day. The hawks are concerned that engagement policies make us look weak (and the Russians might be testing our resolve with their submarine patrols off our east coast). But in an era of globalization and mass communication compellence is the name of the game. The more we know about an adversary the better our deterrence. This is effectively done through diplomacy.
    I can empathise with the hawks a bit. It is important to display our power and role as a leviathan. But, in some instances, including the release of the two journalists in the DPRK, sometimes a little charm is all that is needed. And who better to do that than Bill Clinton.


  19. PissedOffAmerican says:

    I would be more inclined to believe the “something fishy” is these two girl’s powerful Washington and Hollywood connections. What access could they have to N.Korean state’s secrets? I have to believe that their high profile celebrity does not exactly lend itself to effective cover for covert activities.


  20. JohnH says:

    Something mighty fishy going on here. Since when does the US government care about journalists? If they were really independent journalists, I’m sure that the US would have been happy to let them sit and rot in North Korea.
    My hunch is that they were something more than journalists, and that they were caught red handed. What else could justify sending a former president to the rescue? And all the press hoopla about Clinton’s dramatic successes? Could it be designed to put a smiling face on what could have been a very compromising situation?


  21. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Clinton has a lot to answer for: those 500,000-1,000,000 Iraqis killed under sanctions”
    Actually, the five hundred thousand figure is, by some studies, the amount of Iraqi CHILDREN killed by the sanctions.
    Its nice seeing the two smiling faces, plucked from the grasp of those nasty N.Korean commie pinko fanatics. Its a shame that these two didn’t recieve the careful attention that Israel is giving to Tristan, eh? A nice bed in Tel Aviv, sheets changed everyday, bed pan emptied faithfully. Perhaps Billie boy can head for Israel next, and push Tristan’s gurney onto the next flight home.


  22. Outraged American says:

    The comments on this over at are pricelessly funny.
    It’s under “Some Reward” in their blog section mid-page.
    Clinton has a lot to answer for: those 500,000-1,000,000 Iraqis
    killed under sanctions, the bombing of Kosovo, so great, he saved
    two pretty things from 12 years of hard labor. Will BJs follow?
    Cigars all around!


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