Dealing with Dictators: North Korea

August 14, 2009

Bill Clinton went to North Korea and met Kim Jong-il, the leader of one of the world's worst regimes.

The visit by a former U.S. president and international celebrity gave global visibility and an aura of equal status to an isolated regime. The greeting and the photo-op, one of history's most affectless pictures, may be all the North wanted.

As a result, two American journalists were released. They were arrested along the China-North Korea border while researching a story and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor.

But should you ever deal with dictators? In this case, did positive outcomes justify lending credibility to bad guys?

Does defining the parameters of negotiations impact the decision?

The mission was labeled and treated as unofficial, however, the trip was probably coordinated with the administration, and Clinton must have had some assurance of success in advance. Furthermore, the private/public line is fine since his spouse is the Secretary of State.

What do you think? Did the U.S. give up too much for the sake of two citizens? Were ethical standards compromised or upheld?

By William Vocke.

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