Gergen: ‘If John Bolton Had His Way, These Two Women Would Still be in Prison’

All day today, washingtonpost.com ran its lead story — news that Bill Clinton had secured the release of two American prisoners in North Korea — along with an op-ed by John Bolton: ‘Clinton’s Unwise North Korea Trip.’

Which made me wonder, after I cleared my head and put my glasses back on: Is there anything the Democrats or the Obama administration could do that wouldn’t earn immediate public scorn from the GOP?

The women, both journalists, had been sentenced in sham trials to 12 years of hard labor in North Korean prison camps. Clinton, in a visit of less than 24 hours, secured pardons and releases for both women. It was billed as an unofficial visit, but according to reports, Obama’s State Department was very active behind the scenes, working to make this happen. As I write this, the women are flying back to the United States, with Clinton, in his plane.

The gist of Bolton’s argument seems to be that Clinton’s visit to North Korea somehow rewards state-sponsored terrorism.

Despite decades of bipartisan U.S. rhetoric about not negotiating with terrorists for the release of hostages, it seems that the Obama administration not only chose to negotiate, but to send a former president to do so.

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.

Bolton, in case you’ve forgotten, was George Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations — the one who was opposed to the United Nations. (He famously said: “There is no such thing as the United Nations. There is only the international community, which can only be led by the only remaining superpower, which is the United States,” also noting that the U.N. building in New York “has 38 stories. If you lost ten stories today, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”) Among his lifetime achievements are the derailing of the 2001 biological weapons conference in Geneva, and his support for military action to remove Saddam Hussein from power — during the Clinton administration.

“In Pyongyang’s view,” Bolton writes in the Post op-ed, “the two reporters are pawns in the larger game of enhancing the regime’s legitimacy and gaining direct access to important U.S. figures.”

On CNN moments ago, political consultant David Gergen — who served in the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan administrations, and was an advisor to Clinton — was asked directly about Bolton’s views. Gergen did not mince words:

“I think that’s nonsense and heartless … I just sharply disagree here. Listen, the United States gave nothing away. Bill Clinton went as he is a private citizen … and beyond that, if John Bolton had his way, these two women would still be in prison.

“And finally, I must say we ought to take a moment here to say how exemplary Bill Clinton’s behavior has been since his wife became secretary of state. A lot of people thought he’d be a loose cannon. He has been totally supportive, he’s been quiet, and on this occasion he did something good for the country. I think people ought to have a higher level of respect for him, after this trip, and thank him for doing what he did.”

Quite honestly, I couldn’t have said it better, myself.

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4 Responses to “Gergen: ‘If John Bolton Had His Way, These Two Women Would Still be in Prison’”

  1. Jack Steed says:

    John Bolton may have terrified those serving under him while he held office, but if I ever met him I would laugh in his stupid face. He is a disgrace to this country and ought never to be quoted in any context. Hooray for David Gergen!

  2. Neurotic Dem says:

    Thanks for the comment, Jack. Perhaps never more true than today. Here, apparently, is an updated line added to his WaPo column after the pardon was issued and the reporters were freed: “Indeed, the release of the two reporters — welcome news — doesn’t mitigate the future risks entailed.”
    A wonder that he could find it in his heart to admit this is “welcome news.”
    -ND

  3. mconley says:

    I seriously doubt that Kim Jong Il released those girls out of the goodness of “his heart”.
    There HAS to be more to this story. Maybe Bolton, who is extremely well versed in world affairs, knows something we don’t know.
    Nevertheless, I’m glad the girls are home.

  4. Neurotic Dem says:

    mconley,
    I’m sure you’re right that there’s more to the story. I just can’t believe Bolton’s timing. At least wait until the facts are in before maligning a mission that uplifted our nation.
    I think for me the key is, North Korea is a country — not a terrorist. I don’t believe we should reward rogue nations, or negotiate out of weakness, but we certainly have a long history of reaching out to nations that are atrocious on human rights. China and Russia are just two examples.
    In this case, if you read Bolton’s article, he makes some pretty sweeping condemnations. He writes: “The point to be made on the Clinton visit is that the knee-jerk impulse for negotiations above all inevitably brings more costs than its advocates foresee.” Everything I have read suggests there was nothing “knee-jerk” about this decision — it was weeks of behind the scenes back and forth. Moreover, Obama’s “open hand” to negotiate with our adversaries is also not knee jerk. This strategy was carefully articulated by Obama during the election, which he won by almost ten million votes (popular vote: 69.4 million to 59.9 million), an electoral landslide. So why are we still skewering him for his diplomatic outreach?
    I would make the case that the exact opposite of Bolton’s statement is true. That is, the knee-jerk impulse NOT to negotiate or talk to our adversaries brings more costs than its advocates foresee.
    In the end, Maureen Dowd’s column in the NY Times today put a fine point on what really matters:

    Conservatives were screeching, naturally, that the Clinton trip would provide propaganda cover to the North Koreans to continue their nuclear shell game.

    “Despite decades of bipartisan U.S. rhetoric about not negotiating with terrorists for the release of hostages,” John Bolton wrote for The Washington Post’s Web site, “it seems that the Obama administration not only chose to negotiate, but to send a former president to do so.”

    But the former Bush bullies have no credibility on diplomacy. They spent eight years wrecking it, and the score for them on North Korea is 0-6; zero meetings with Kim and enough plutonium for six nuclear bombs.

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