The hostage Rorschach test



North Korea has always been a kind of a Rorschach test, telling one more about the analyst than North Korea. The release of hostages Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller appears to be no different in this regard.

Over at 38North, Frank Januzzi writes that “The message from Pyongyang seems to be this: ‘We know what we are doing. We want both nuclear deterrence and economic development, but are prepared to engage with the international community and address at least some of its concerns on the basis of sovereign equality and mutual respect.’” If it were only that easy.  Januzzi dismisses the notion that the North has been spooked by the prospect of Kim Jong-un being referred to the International Criminal Court by arguing that “in May of this year, the North issued a serious, detailed report to the UN Human Rights Council, responding constructively for the first time to the 2009 “Universal Periodic Review (UPR)” of its human rights record.” Huh?  This is the same document that described the Commission of Inquiry (COI) report as a fabrication, “based on the testimonies of ‘human scum’ and ‘terrorist’ ‘riffraff’ who have betrayed their homeland, where people enjoy a genuine life and happiness,” and characterized the head of the Commission, former Australian High Court Justice Michael Kirby as “a disgusting old lecher with a 40-odd-year-long career of homosexuality.” If you want watch Kirby laying wood to North Korean UN Ambassador Jang Il Hun with regard to the first charge, check the video here. Kirby is too dignified to take the North Koreans to task on the latter affront. Too bad.

Former intelligence analyst turned fiction writer (with regard to North Korea it’s often hard to tell the two apart), Bob Carlin is more circumspect writing “it is hard to say what the release of the Americans might mean, if it means anything at all.” (Maybe it’s the difference between having worked as an intel analyst and having worked for Joe Biden.) Anyway, Brawlin’ Bob suggests the timing of the release may have been linked to a 4 November Foreign Ministry statement that as Carlin put was “circumspect” by North Korean standards, appearing to signal that it was open to re-engaging on the nuclear issue (which some might interpret as Pyongyang indicating a willingness to sell us the same horse for the third? fourth? time):

“The present U.S. administration, the present U.S. secretary of State, in particular, unlike the successive U.S. administrations, are officially pursuing a policy for bringing down the state and social system of the DPRK over the “human rights issue,” thus reneging on the September 19, 2005 joint statement which calls upon the DPRK and the U.S. to “respect each other’s sovereignty and exist peacefully,” the statement which laid a basic groundwork for denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula has become totally meaningless for the DPRK under the situation where the U.S. is reneging on   its commitment. It is self-evident that one party cannot discuss its unilateral disarming with the rival party keen to bring it down at any cost.”

For his part, Januzzi links the timing of the release to the APEC summit and the meeting between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping: it is a means of giving Obama one less argument to use to encourage China to put pressure on North Korea.

Personally, my views are closer to Carlin’s than Januzzi’s. I’ve never understood what the North Koreans stood to gain from holding these hostages, particularly Miller. My training is in economics, not psychiatry. But from afar, that young man seems to have issues, and frankly if I were the North Koreans, I would have wanted him off my hands quickly. I don’t know what has taken them this long.

And when I stretch out on the couch, I have to believe that the tightening human rights noose and the prospect, however unlikely, that China, with which—contra Jannuzi--North Korea has deteriorating relations, might stand aside and refuse to veto ICC referral in the Security Council, was sufficiently discomfiting to a risk-averse Pyongyang to prod them into action. Clear the board of these useless pawns.

In the meantime, to shift metaphors (clichés?), failure is an orphan, but success has a thousand fathers. Former Ambassador Bill Richardson turned up on NPR, gamely admitting that while he had failed in his rescue attempt, that he knew something was up; he is definitely still a player.  And speaking of players, Dennis Rodman phoned in from rehab to remind the world (or at least the readers of Time magazine) that he played a role, too. Good on you, boys.

Oh, and the angle that everyone one has missed: Jim Clapper wasn’t quarantined for three weeks.

And Pablo Picasso was never called…

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