Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Thoughts on Bill Clinton's Trip to North Korea

Bill Clinton was back in the news recently. He went on a trip to North Korea to go meet Kim Jong-Il and win the release of two American hostages. Was it right from him to do so?

Some conservatives are saying that Clinton is responsible for “rewarding bad behavior.” However, I fail to see what Kim Jong-Il got in return. He can’t think the US is suddenly going to stop trying to prevent him from acquitting nuclear weapons. And certainly, the US isn’t going to help him get those weapons. The only thing he might have gotten was a promise for more international aid to feed his starving population. Is that really so bad?

This returns us to the conservative trope for the past few decades that meeting with a dictator is always appeasement. Every such situation becomes Munich in 1938. The dictator is Hitler, while the other leader is Neville Chamberlain. Someone who talks tough is Winston Churchill.

But I think that’s wrong. Chamberlain didn’t appease Hitler because he met with him; he appeased him because he let him have the Sudetenland. 1938 shouldn’t guide every foreign policy decision we make. And if we insist on letting it, then we should at least draw the right lessons. Just talking doesn’t hurt our national interests.

So I ask the question: would you rather have two Americans be made to suffer in North Korea to look “tough?” What would not talking to North Korea have accomplished?

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