Euna Lee and Laura Ling are safe at home and in the warm embrace of loved ones and it's hard to feel bad about this. But, since Bill Clinton has a hand in their release, someone's got to step up and naysay the effort, and predictably, that task has fallen to former UN ambassador and noted rage-walrus John Bolton, who says the "Clinton trip is a significant propaganda victory for North Korea, whether or not he carried an official message from President Obama." Of course, holding Lee and Ling as prisoners was also a significant propaganda victory for North Korea, insofar as the ravings of a crackpot rogue nations can be held to be significant. If Kim Jong Il bakes a mediocre angel food cake today, North Korea will claim they've achieved a significant propaganda victory.
Bolton, nevertheless, doesn't see it this way:
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. Yet that is exactly the consequence of visits by former presidents or other dignitaries as a form of political ransom to obtain their release. Iran and other autocracies are presumably closely watching the scenario in North Korea. With three American hikers freshly in Tehran's captivity, will Clinton be packing his bags again for another act of obeisance? And, looking ahead, what American hostages will not be sufficiently important to merit the presidential treatment? What about Roxana Saberi and other Americans previously held in Tehran? What was it about them that made them unworthy of a presidential visit? These are the consequences of poorly thought-out gesture politics, however well-intentioned or compassionately motivated. Indeed, the release of the two reporters -- welcome news -- doesn't mitigate the future risks entailed.
Right! Over the past decade, the only risks Americans have faced have come because of the misguided efforts to obtain the release of captive journalists. And clearly, we should probably lock ourselves in intense speculation over how much of the Sudetenland Clinton ceded to Pyongyang. What an excellent case Bolton has made here! It helps of course, to ignore the hollow grandstanding that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad indulged in over Roxana Saberi, an actual bonafide stab at securing a propaganda victory.
At any rate, as Spencer Ackerman points out, the only outcome of a Presidential visit to Pyongyang that Bolton would take national pride in is one in which Clinton "strapped himself with nuclear weapons and detonated during a meeting with Kim Jong-il." Like Bolton says, "Negotiating from a position of strength, where the benefits to American interests will exceed the costs, is one thing. Negotiating merely for the sake of it, in the face of palpable recent failures, is something else indeed."
Of course, no one was negotiating "merely for the sake of it." The negotiations were for the sake of Euna Lee and Laura Ling. You'll note that Bolton never mentions them by name, once. This is not surprising, because that would take actual humanity.