Bill Clinton came back from North Korea with Euna Lee and Laura Ling, but Kim Jong Il was a winner, too.
True win-win scenarios are rare in international politics, and events in North Korea this week were no exception.
The families of journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee have every reason to be elated today at their release from the clutches of an evil North Korean regime. They had been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for "spying" before communist dictator Kim Jong Il graciously consented to grant them special pardons after former President Bill Clinton flew to Pyongyang to kiss his ring.
The reporters, who work for Al Gore's Current TV, returned home on Wednesday, touching down in Los Angeles and meeting loved ones in an tearful reunion, an emotional end to five months in captivity in the rogue nation.
Clinton, the "Big Dog" of the Democratic Party, must be elated to be seen once again as a player on the international scene. (Get rid of those naughty thoughts of him being a "player" in the other sense -- picking up two chicks, etc.). Even if the deal had been cut by the State Department well before the former president headed to Pyongyang, he looks like the catalyst that got things done.
But the person most elated must be Kim Jong-Il, the physically deteriorating dictator. After insulting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just a couple weeks back, Kim has managed to get the United States to send her husband on a mission of mercy. Of course, the secretary must have signed off on it, but it's still humiliating nonetheless: She's got the official portfolio now, but she has to step aside -- again -- for her husband. And who has brought whom to the negotiation table? Has the United States gotten the Pyongyang to cooperate? Or has Kim gotten the photo-op of lifetime? Kinda seems obvious. Gore tried to intercede, but it didn't work.
But what must newly-sworn in Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be thinking right now? He has some nice American bargaining chips of his own: Three hikers who wandered into Iran from across the Iraq border a few days ago. If one member of the former "Axis of Evil" was able to get a former president to bargain for the release of three accused spies, what can Iran get? And Iran can at least say that it has been down this road before: It unilaterally released Iranian-American journalist/former beauty queen Roxana Saberi -- who had been convicted of spying. It's been the "good boy" -- and all it got for its trouble was the United States tacitly giving its blessing for the green revolution.
President Obama -- via Bill Clinton -- may get some momentary good feelings coming out of North Korea for this big international gambit. But his own headaches -- from what rogue regimes might think they can get out of the U.S. -- could be just beginning.