- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 8, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Former President Bill Clinton’s surprise trip to Pyongyang this week put him back in the spotlight. It has also badly damaged American strategic interests and given legitimacy to a murderous Stalinist regime.

Mr. Clinton’s face-to-face meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il resulted in the release of two American journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling. They were held captive since March, after allegedly illegally crossing the North Korea-China border. In June, a kangaroo North Korean court sentenced them to 12 years at hard labor. Their release is welcome news.

The question, however, is what promises — if any — Mr. Clinton made to secure their freedom. The Obama administration insists Mr. Clinton’s visit was a private, “humanitarian” mission. This is hard to believe. Such a high-profile trip never would have occurred unless the results were already known in advance. Mr. Kim specifically asked for Mr. Clinton to broker the deal. Mr. Clinton’s wife, after all, is U.S. secretary of state.

For months, rumors in Washington have swirled about a possible agreement to free Ms. Lee and Ms. Ling provided the United States and North Korea discuss the nuclear problem.

According to Pyongyang, the two issues were clearly linked. North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency released a statement saying the meeting “featured candid and in-depth discussions on the pending issues between the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] and the U.S. in a sincere atmosphere.”

In other words, the Obama administration rewarded Mr. Kim’s criminal behavior. The American journalists were effectively political hostages used to blackmail the United States to do the one thing Pyongyang has demanded for years: conduct direct bilateral talks over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Such a concession marks a radical break from U.S. foreign policy — and a severe blow to American security interests in the region. Washington has insisted that North Korea participate in the six-party talks to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. The other members include China, Russia, South Korea and Japan.

If Mr. Clinton conducted covert diplomacy on behalf of the Obama administration, then our closest regional allies — Japan and South Korea — have been betrayed. They have the most to lose from a nuclear-armed North Korea; Pyongyang’s unpredictable hermit regime regularly threatens them with annihilation. This is why any comprehensive agreement must involve Seoul and Tokyo.

Moreover, Japan and South Korea have had more than 1,000 of their own citizens kidnapped by North Korea, where they languish in prison camps. Why did Mr. Clinton not fight for their release as well? Is Asian life less valuable than American life?

Yet, for the Clintons, these questions don’t matter. His mission has achieved its short-term political goal: undermining President Obama. The Clintons have never forgiven Mr. Obama for snatching the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination — and the White House — from their grasp. They are now in political exile, biding their time to undermine Mr. Obama and possibly make one last bid for power in 2016.

Mr. Clinton’s trip shows they are still a potent force within the Democratic Party. It also makes the Clintons’ central argument: They are effective, experienced leaders who can get the job done. In contrast, Mr. Obama appears weak, effete and marginalized.

This should come as no surprise. Throughout their careers, the Clintons have consistently put power and self-interest above patriotism. In fact, it was the Clinton administration that allowed Pyongyang to develop its atomic arsenal. The 1994 Agreed Framework enabled North Korea to acquire light-water nuclear reactors in exchange for freezing — and eventually dismantling — its nuclear weapons program. Pyongyang lied. And it has subsequently lied repeatedly about its nuclear ambitions. The result is one of the most dangerous tyrannies in history: an economic basket case armed with nuclear weapons and led by a sadistic madman.

Mr. Kim presides over a totalitarian police state responsible for the deaths of more than 1 million people, mass starvation and an economy based on slave labor. Yet, while his people starve, Mr. Kim and his cronies feast on imported caviar, expensive whiskey and Swedish women — prostitutes routinely flown in to satisfy Dear Leader’s exotic appetites.

His regime is an international pariah. It is part of the “axis of evil.” It is communist China’s closest ally. It has sold ballistic missile technology to Iran. It is helping Tehran’s mullahs acquire the atomic bomb. It has aided Syria’s burgeoning covert nuclear program. Its main source of revenue is weapons smuggling, counterfeiting and drug trafficking. It is at the heart of the global anti-American alliance. It can provide terrorist groups with nuclear weapons. In short, it poses a clear and present danger to civilization.

Instead of fostering regime change, Mr. Clinton’s actions did the very opposite: They strengthened Mr. Kim’s weakening grip on power.

It is an open secret that the Dear Leader’s health has been in decline. He recently suffered a stroke. Moreover, it is rumored he has pancreatic cancer. His poor health triggered a succession fight; cracks within the military leadership were appearing. There was even talk of a potential North Korean glasnost and perestroika, mild reform of the moribund communist system. The photo-op with Mr. Clinton has changed this. It has bolstered Mr. Kim’s credibility — both to the North Korean public and to his wavering generals. The dictator has won a major propaganda coup.

Mr. Clinton may have freed two American journalists, but he has betrayed the 23 million North Koreans living under Stalinist slavery. They remain Mr. Kim’s hostages. And Mr. Clinton has only consigned them to a deeper, darker dungeon.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

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