Bolton, Clinton, North Korea: One of Those Good Problems

Re-reading John Bolton’s op-ed on the Washington Post ‘s website — the one that called Clinton’s diplomacy with North Korea foolish about two hours before it, like, worked — I got stuck on this graf:

While the United States is properly concerned whenever its citizens are abused or held hostage, efforts to protect them should not create potentially greater risks for other Americans in the future. Yet that is exactly the consequence of visits by former presidents or other dignitaries as a form of political ransom to obtain their release. Iran and other autocracies are presumably closely watching the scenario in North Korea. With three American hikers freshly in Tehran’s captivity, will Clinton be packing his bags again for another act of obeisance? And, looking ahead, what American hostages will not be sufficiently important to merit the presidential treatment? What about Roxana Saberi and other Americans previously held in Tehran? What was it about them that made them unworthy of a presidential visit? These are the consequences of poorly thought-out gesture politics, however well-intentioned or compassionately motivated.

It’s not as if the North Koreans are kidnapping Americans left and right. But if all it costs the U.S. in the future to secure hostage releases is for Bill Clinton to show up in various hellholes, that’s a pretty good use of an ex-presidency. I’m searching for an actual harm to U.S. interests here and I just can’t find it. What I can find is two freed Americans. 

It must suck to keep being outwitted by that varmint…

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman