We now know there is an additional perk to becoming President. In addition to being really, really powerful, living in a beautiful home with 24-hour everything, a limo, Air Force One, and Camp David, once you are retired, you get to go to North Korea. President Bill Clinton wrapped up his voyage yesterday, a trip that capped negotiations for the release of two American journalists who had been sentenced to twelve years of hard labor by a Korean court. Jimmy Carter previously went to North Korea although the Clinton White House was ambivalent about that trip.
People worry that sending the former President (it was initially suggested that former Vice-President Al Gore lead the delegation) will prove to be a public relations coup for the North Korean regime, that it will confer legitimacy on the corrupt government in Pyongyang that is just about the most evil of any in the world. I don’t know about that. First, the regime appears to have an iron grip on power within the North Korean state: When it collapses, it will be like the old Soviet Union, in a way that was not predicted and, therefore, hard to plan for. Second, I think the rest of the world knows dictator Kim Jong Il is a little, well, kooky and that a photo of him next to Bill Clinton does not appreciably alter that assessment. The real problem in dealing with North Korea is not just that they are evil, but that that may be unpredictable because the supreme leader is not playing with a full set of cards.
Last year, almost everyone got excited at the beautifully staged Beijing Olympics. Now, that was a propaganda coup. It was chilling to see President George W. Bush in the stands at the Opening Ceremonies, an event that mirrored nothing so much as a Nuremburg Nazi rally in its use of thousands of humans as props in a display that was not less pernicious because it was beautifully done. The leaders in Beijing may be evil and corrupt, but they are not crazy. The intended to reap rewards from their hosting the Olympics and the fawning treatment of the press and the politicians helped them achieve that end.
Today, across the globe, another event will try and shape both domestic and international opinion, the inauguration of Mahmoud Ahmadmenijad as President of Iran for a second term. As in Beijing and North Korea, a dictatorial regime will use virtually any and all of the tools of propaganda to further its aims. Unlike North Korea, however, the regime in Iran has extensive and powerful opposition within the country. Unlike Beijing, the economy in Iran is not an outlet for creative, energetic young people as it is for the young people in China. Of the three, Ahmadmenijad’s regime is the shakiest and so it behooves America to do nothing that would lend legitimacy to his rule. The quickest way for him to win back the hearts of his people is to portray himself as fighting back the encroachments of the Yankees, so it is best we do nothing. Iran, too, has Americans in custody for no good reason but the last thing we should do is hand Ahmadmenijad a photo op with any former President. But, wait - I have an idea. To earn the release of the Americans arrested on the Kurdish border, send Iran George W. Bush. Let’s see how that turns out.