Commentary Magazine


Contentions

“Dear Mr. Dictator. . .”

Obama, we’re told, has penned a letter to North Korea’s diminutive thug Kim Jong-il. This is not a good thing. You recall the dreamy letter to Vladimir Putin and the video suck-up-o-gram to the “Islamic Republic of Iran.” Both were ill-fated attempts to lure the unlurable with an open hand. At best they had no impact; at worst they conveyed a desperation and naiveté that no doubt impressed those leaders, albeit not in the way we intended. The news reports don’t say what was in the letter. The administration isn’t saying. But as the Washington Post dryly puts it:

It is relatively unusual for an American president to send the North Korean dictator a personal communication so early in his term. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush eventually sent letters to Kim, but only after extensive diplomatic efforts to restrain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Efforts early in Bush’s term to send a letter were stymied by an intense debate over whether to use an honorific such as “his excellency” to address Kim.

Given the cringe-inducing behavior of the Obami, one can imagine that the letter might be less than the model of toughness and resolve we would hope. We’ve dispatched an envoy to engage in bilateral talks with the North Koreans and gone mute on the regime’s atrocious human-rights record. As Stephen Hayes points out, Obama in his Oslo speech omitted North Korea from his list of human-rights miscreants:

So why wasn’t North Korea mentioned? Was it merely an oversight–did Obama officials simply forget how bad things are there? Or was it a strategic omission–a signal to Kim Jong Il that the U.S. government will set aside concerns about human rights if his regime will return to the nuclear negotiating table? …

The very fact that the high-level face-to-face meetings took place is a blow to human rights in North Korea, as any such discussions necessarily lend legitimacy to the repressive regime in Pyongyang, particularly when such bilateral talks came after repeated demands for them from the North Koreans. And the fact that the Obama administration seems unwilling not only to “call attention to” human rights abuses in North Korea but even to mention them suggests that Obama’s “unwavering commitment” to human rights around the world is mere Oslo rhetoric.

And then there’s the news of a North Korean shipment of 35 tons of arms seized in Thailand en route, perhaps, to Pakistan or Middle East, to be used by those seeking to kill Americans or our allies, one supposes.

Given all this, one wonders why the president is penning missives to the North Korean despot. It seems that the Obami are still enamored of their own charms and still bent on “drawing out” the world’s thugs. Maybe a better gambit would be to fund fully our missile-defense systems. Granted, it’s more expensive than a postage stamp, but it’s a whole lot less foolish than writing “Dear Dictator” letters.