Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Bubba does it again

Conservative right wingers are already criticizing the actions of ex-President Bill Clinton, of course (the WSJ editorial supposes worst-case scenarios), but this is a coup for both him and the Administration. Pictures and words tell a story of diplomatic triumph for ex-President Clinton.

A private plane carrying former President Bill Clinton and two journalists, Laura Ling, 32, and Euna Lee, 36, landed early Wednesday morning in Burbank, just outside Los Angeles. During Mr. Clinton's dramatic 20-hour visit to North Korea, he won the freedom of the American journalists, opened a diplomatic channel to North Korea's reclusive government and dined with the North's ailing leader, Kim Jong-il.

Administration officials said Mr. Clinton went to North Korea as a private citizen, did not carry a message from Mr. Obama for Mr. Kim and had the authority to negotiate only for the women's release.

They're not going to admit it; diplomacy doesn't work that way.

The North Korean government, which in June sentenced the women to 12 years of hard labor for illegally entering North Korean territory, announced hours before the jet's departure from North Korea that it had pardoned the women after Mr. Clinton apologized to Mr. Kim for their actions.

One of the North Koreans who met President Clinton at the airport was a top nuclear negotiator. Useful for internal consumption.

Mr. Clinton’s wife, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, said Wednesday that the administration was “extremely excited” that the women would be reunited with their families. But she denied that her husband had apologized.

Internal consumption. O, and the New York Post's headline at the bottom of page 1: Bubba gets the chicks. Real style, no? Inside, and its website, the headline was BILL CAN STILL GET THE WOMEN.

The negotiations catapulted Mr. Clinton back on to the global stage, on behalf of a president who defeated Mrs. Clinton in a bitter primary campaign last year, and who later asked her to be his secretary of state.

And for journalists who work for the firm founded by his Vice-President. O, he's gotta be loving this.

Mrs. Clinton was deeply involved in the case, too. She proposed sending various people to Pyongyang — including Mr. Gore — to lobby for the release of the women, before Mr. Clinton emerged as the preferred choice of the North Koreans, people briefed on the talks said. About 10 days ago, these people said, Mr. Gore called Mr. Clinton to ask him to undertake the trip. Mr. Clinton agreed, as long as the Obama administration did not object. In an interview Wednesday with NBC’s “Today” show in Nairobi, Kenya, Mrs. Clinton said the final request to Mr. Clinton had come from the White House.

Mr. Clinton embraced his former vice president, Mr. Gore. Given Mr. Clinton's stature and his long interest in the North Korean nuclear issue, experts said it was likely that his discussions in North Korea ranged well beyond obtaining the release of Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee.

The riveting tableau, of a former president jetting into a diplomatic crisis while his wife was embarking on a tour of Africa in her role as the nation’s chief diplomat, underscored the unique and enduring role of the Clintons, even in the Obama era.

They are not going away.

Mr. Clinton has sought to find the right place in the Obama era, eager to play a role without stepping on the toes of the new president or, certainly, the secretary of state.

The last time the two had spoken, said the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, was in March, when Mr. Obama invited Mr. Clinton to a ceremony in Washington for signing legislation expanding the AmeriCorps program created by Mr. Clinton.

In interviews last spring, Mr. Clinton said that he would be happy to do anything Mr. Obama asked him to do, but that “I try to stay out of their way.”

Mr. Clinton’s mission may be less of an issue for Mr. Obama than for Mrs. Clinton. The same day he landed in North Korea, she arrived in Kenya, beginning an 11-day journey through Africa — a visit now largely eclipsed by her husband’s travels.

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