I find it odd that a former president went to Korea to negotiate the release of U.S. citizens... On what authority? He's not a government official anymore. Granted, they were released and that's great, and the talks supposedly went well, but... I don't know... It would be like me going out and representing my company on matters that I had no authority to speak on. Though... I don't know... I'm confused and don't know how I feel about that.
It's all diplomacy. The United States has no diplomatic ties with North Korea. North Korea...let me back up.
Back during the Clinton administration we, North Korea, Japan, China, South Korea, and... Russia? all worked out a deal. It's a bit blurry in my memory now, but I know North Korea was to abandon their nuclear program, I think America was providing fuel for their power plants, and the other countries were providing funding for all this. Something along those lines. Some will say that Bush broke this treaty so the nuclear program got restarted. In fact the other nations broke it first. We and N. Korea were the last ones out.
And, you probably heard that Carter visited N. Korea for some negotiations in the early 90's and Clinton was supposed to make another visit late in his term in office but that fell apart for some reason that eludes me.
So, now North Korea wants to strike a similar deal to what they had back then. They'll give up the nukes and the reactors if we'll come back to the negotiating table. We, and everyone else, say we'll talk if they lose the nukes. The Chairman of North Korea does want to talk and reestablish relations before handing the country over to his son. So he grabs a couple of reporters that work for a media outlet founded by former VP Gore. Gore was working to get his people released. The US government can't send anyone in to talk. But, we can get someone with clout, someone the Chairman has worked with and likes, to go over.
Sweden has diplomatic ties with North Korea. We can, and have, gone through them for unofficial contact between our countries. That's how Bill Clinton went in this time.
The reporters have been accused of crimes. They can't just drop the charges. However, Clinton can ask for amnesty which means guilty, but forgiven.
And Bill also passes along a message of thanks from Obama.
A lot of negotiations work along similar lines. How many times has Jimmy Carter gone out to negotiate without the government's OK? The leaders of the countries, and even their Secretary of States, don't do the negotiations themselves. Some lower level diplomats work out the early stuff and the higher ups talk, fine tune, and attend the signing ceremony.
You can see my favorite example at http://www.tragi-comix.com/tbp/archives/tbp476.html.
By setting this aside I had the time to realize something else. You know how people say that we're always fighting the last war? This means that each war is different, but the equipment and thinking used is best used in the previous war. You don't typically hear about the mounted cavalry in World War II. It's all about the tanks even though there were very few of them. We kept trying to fight in Iraq with planes despite their nigh uselessness against urban terrorists.
In North Korea we have Kim Jong-il who is trying to pretend that the Bush years never happened. Quite frankly, so is everyone else. Jong-il is going a bit further than the rest of us by trying to get a deal like he had before by talking to the people he had before.
Similarly, Bush spent his administration trying to pretend that the Clinton years never happened. He denied the terrorist right up until we got attacked and then fought the terrorists like he was trying to win in Vietnam. He behaved internationally like it was still the middle of the Cold War.
No real point to this last bit. Just an observation.
1Headline stolen from Fark.