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North Korea vs. Bush: Follow-Up

August 9th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

It’s official. North Korea officially has the moral high ground over the United States. Sure, Kim Jong Il is a power-crazed despotic nutjob who cruelly and horribly used two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, for his own political purposes and wouldn’t have thought twice about upholding their 12-years-of-hard-labor sentence for illegally entering the country, but ultimately he released them after months of secret negotiations and a photo-op with Bill Clinton.

Meanwhile it took six years for the U.S. to get around to releasing Mohammed Jawad, who has been rotting away in Guantanamo Bay since he was taken in Afghanistan at the age of twelve years old for allegedly throwing a grenade at an American vehicle. What evidence was there that he did this? Well, he confessed. After we tortured him.

Why should any country in the world take the U.S. seriously when it talks about humanitarianism? North Korea certainly didn’t have to. They could have waved Guantanamo in our face and declared that Ling and Lee would spend the next 12 years paying for America’s arrogance. And if they’d decided to do that, there’s nothing we could have possibly done about it. The country is already isolated, its people already struggling, so further economic sanctions would have been useless. And military force is certainly out of the question when dealing with a hostile nation that probably would attack our ally South Korea if given any excuse and draw us into a sequel to the Korean War.

But with nothing more than the promise of a photo op with former president Clinton, Kim Jong Il decided to let the women go.

As an aside, I think too much credit has been given to Bill Clinton in this matter. The way the bloggers are talking you’d think that it was Clinton who woke up one morning and decided on his own initiative to go to North Korea and put his reputation on the line for the sake of bringing those two women home. The real story is that these negotiations were going on for months, it was finally decided that the women would be released in exchange for a photo op with a former president which would be great P.R. for Kim Jong Il, and since George W. probably wasn’t an option they went with Bill Clinton. Clinton happily accepted the phenomenal publicity opportunity and went there (provided his success was guaranteed beforehand) to pretend to strike a deal and bring the women home. So the real heroes of the story are the behind-the-scenes negotiators who somehow managed to get North Korea to do something the United States would never do and release two foreign “hostiles” back to their home country.

And immediately the neoconservatives jumped all over this and declared that it was the wrong thing to do, thus proving beyond any doubt that if Bush were still president those women would be under the lash as we speak. Because according to the neoconservatives, of whom Bush was a loyal servant, a photo opportunity with a foreign American leader is disastrous international politics because it somehow “legitimizes” the leader. Is there any country in the world that went from believing Kim Jong Il was illegitimate to believing he was legitimate simply after seeing a photo of him and Bill Clinton? The only eyes this legitimizes him in are the eyes of his own people, who are already conditioned to see him as a demi-god anyway. Yet the neoconservatives believe that the lives of two women (whom they simply say shouldn’t have gone to North Korea in the first place and therefore deserved whatever punishment they were given) are not worth the political cost of a photo opportunity. If Bush had been president when this happened, those women would be rotting in a labor camp right now because of this absurd ideology.

America may not have had the “moral high ground” even before the Bush Administration, but at least there was the perception of moral superiority left-over from our fair treatment of international prisoners during the Second World War. Bush destroyed every last shred of that perception and now the world sees American for what it really is: another ruthless superpower just like every other superpower throughout history from the Roman to the Spanish to the British Empires. America tortures confessions out of enemies and keeps them in prison indefinitely under deliberately harsh conditions without ever giving them a trial or any kind of legal representation. Even if Obama is putting an end to these policies, their stain on the national reputation will endure for decades, and we can’t forget that innocent people are still rotting away in Guantanamo because the same people who fought to open it are fighting to make it as difficult as possible to close. And the American people are buying their silly lies (closing Gitmo will let terrorists into American so they can kill your children) and further enabling this moral atrocity to endure.

North Korea’s hard labor camps may be similarly evil, but they have now earned a few points on the international stage for releasing international prisoners. That gives them a few more points in that area than the United States, and thus in the case of North Korea vs. Bush on humanitarian issues, the winner is North Korea.

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