I was elated to see filmmakers Laura Ling and Euna Lee returned to home turf after five months of captivity in North Korea. I worried about the fate of these two fellow journalists and fellow Americans. From one day to the next, there was no way to tell if they remain in the hands of a peevish, spiteful adversary, Kim Jong-Il.
North Korean soldiers took the two women into custody in March and accused them of crossing the border from China into North Korea. They were facing the prospect of a dozen years of hard labor after the North Korean government found them guilty of entering the country illegally and committing “hostile” acts.
Then without any hint on Tuesday, the journalists were suddenly pardoned by the North Koreans and released to our government. What a stunning surprise! However, what really induced gasps and made headlines was the discovery that former President Bill Clinton was the man handling this sensitive diplomatic mission. It is not the first time a prominent figure outside of government has negotiated the release of hostages. Both former President Jimmy Carter and former presidential candidate Rev. Jesse Jackson have been successful in similar situations.
Bill Clinton’s appearance in the midst of a sensitive international conflict between two nations was timed brilliantly. It is also a double coup --- one for Clinton personally and one for Kim Jong-Il the head of a rogue nation that launched a long-range missile in May, restarted nuclear facilities, and conducted underground nuclear tests.
So my joy over the release of the two women is tempered with suspicion. What is Bill Clinton getting out of it? The move wasn’t simply a mission of good will, a favor to his former Vice President, Al Gore, who is the employer of the two journalists, or a noble act of a former President in service of a sitting President with no strings attached.
I appreciate the gesture and the work Clinton has done since leaving office in 2000. After all, the Clinton’s foundation has made his life after the White House a model of service to humanity, has it not? He has been fighting for education and against AIDS in Africa among other Third World causes. However, I cannot help but fear that Barack Obama will end up paying a heavy price for trusting Bill Clinton with this mission.
It looks like a case of keep your enemies close but your friends closer. However, I do not think it was wise to sanction a visit from the husband of his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who is also his former rival for the presidency. The decision may backfire or blow up in the face of the current President. The Clintons have not had time to grieve over Hillary Clinton’s primary defeat that launched Obama as the Democratic Party’s choice for President and ultimate victor in 2008.
In retrospect, Obama’s decision not to put Hillary Clinton on the ticket as his running mate was wise. However, he gave her the powerful Secretary of State position that keeps her firmly in the public eye. Now she is a critical decision maker in the Obama administration, juggling major and sensitive world issues. It is why the appearance of Bill Clinton negotiating with the enemy while seemingly bearing an official White House imprimatur is ill advised for Obama. It is one too many Clintons in the house.
Bill and Hillary have not given up their ambition to regain the White House for Hillary. It is not inconceivable for a comeback as a candidate in the 2012 presidential race if Obama falters. In fact, if the President stumbles badly and the Republicans put Sarah Palin up as the party standard-bearer, some Democrats might push Bill's wife forward to create a woman on woman slugfest. It would be as misguided as John McCain’s view last summer that Palin could siphon away independent votes that disgruntled women would have given to Hillary but not Obama. That kind of shallow strategizing was an insult to the intelligence of women voters.
While I have every respect for the Clintons’ willingness to work hard on behalf of the nation, I do not think it is healthy for President Obama to help the Clintons build their record of public service on his watch.
It looks to all the world like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent her husband to run interference for her in a tense diplomatic climate. Kim has thumbed his nose with disdain by firing test missiles in defiance of the international community --- especially the United States.
The release of these women is indeed a propaganda victory for the North Koreans who launched test missiles in defiance of international sanctions. Secretary of State Clinton condemned the launches as the actions of a spoiled attention-seeking teenager. North Korea’s retort was a personal attack painting Mrs. Clinton in very unflattering colors.
The release of the two women journalists is supposedly a gesture of good will. Although Bill Clinton was reportedly not supposed to discuss the nuclear dispute, he had the appearance of being an envoy of the Obama administration. He looked very, “presidential” in the photos taken next to Kim Jong-Il.
The two women journalists served as a taut rope in the tug of war between the America and North Korea. They also unwittingly bound the Clintons and Obama in a contortion that might eventually prove uncomfortable for the President ----- President Obama, that is.