At What Price Do We Negotiate & Deal with Murderous, Crazypants Dictators?

Let me begin by saying that I am extremely glad to hear that Laura Ling and Euna Lee have been pardoned and released by Kim Jong Il and are now safely home in the United States.  They and their families are overjoyed, and why not – I’d be ecstatic too if I just escaped 12 years in a North Korean gulag by the skin of my teeth.

Unfortunately, everything else about this story stinks.

News accounts of the two journalists’ release were chock full of embarrassing North Korean propaganda.  Most reports at least threw in the proverbial air quote disclaimers, but readers were still subjected to absurd descriptions of North Korea as a “humanitarian and peace-loving” nation.  Scratch that, not “North Korea” – the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” (a glaringly obvious misnomer on several levels).  Last time I checked, “humanitarian and peace-loving” nations don’t arrest journalists on trumped-up charges and summarily sentence them to twelve years of forced hard labor.

Put another way, truly humanitarian and peace-loving nations don’t abuse their captured journalists – because they don’t capture journalists to begin with.  And in cases where actual crimes are committed, the alleged perpetrators would at least be accorded some form of due process.

“Humanitarian” regimes don’t impoverish their own people.  (Or maybe we’re supposed to pretend the “People” of DPRK actually voted for this).

“Peace-loving” regimes don’t flaunt U.N. sanctions and lob long-range test missiles willy-nilly in the general direction of their neighbors and the U.S.

This was not a ‘diplomatic coup‘, despite the media narrative to the contrary.  It was instead a humiliating instance of the United States cowing to a murderous, crazypants dictator with seemingly undeterrable rogue nuclear ambitions.

Bill Clinton did what he thought was best for the two journalists by allowing himself to be used as the “high-profile symbol of U.S. authority” that Kim Jong Il demanded appear before him.  Obviously Ling, Lee, and their families are extremely happy with the way things turned out, and to that end this is all well and good.

But serving up this propagandistic photo-op on a silver platter to Kim Jong Il sets a very dangerous precedent.  It puts American civilians and military personnel abroad at greater risk for their lives, lends international legitimacy to North Korea that it does not deserve, and sends a loud, clear signal to North Korea that it can continue its illicit pursuit of The Bomb unabated and with impunity.