The Price of Engaging Tyrants

The pros and cons of two recent rescue missions to Myanmar and North Korea

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When Bill Clinton secured the release of two American journalists from a North Korean labor camp, many expressed gushing joy, and also concern that the trip had rewarded Kim Jong-Il when he should be isolated for pursuing a nuclear program. This weekend, those fears were aired again in relation to similar story--Senator Jim Webb's visit to Myanmar to win another American's freedome. But what are the real costs of engaging these countries? And is there nothing else to gain from such missions aside from rescuing our own people, a cause that few could oppose?

The Costs Of Engagement: These conservatives say negotiating with rogue regimes is no different than endorsing them

  • David Rothkopf, Foreign Policy: "The trip tests the core idea of engagement. There are few more odious regimes on the planet and this one is being interacted with precisely at one of the moments when that odiousness is most clearly on display."
  • Walter Lohman, The Foundry: "Senator Jim Webb provided the junta an opportunity for saturation media coverage of what will pass there as US endorsement of its rule."
  • Patterico's Pontifications: "This is great news for the Yettaw family but it sounds like the U.S. government is handing another in a growing line of PR and engagement victories to a totalitarian regime."

Private missions are lost opportunities for real diplomacy

The Potential Upside:
Isolation didn't help human rights. Maybe engagement will.

  • Doug Bandow, Commentary: The U.S. policy of isolating Burma has failed. "Webb has created an opportunity for the administration to press the Burmese junta to improve, even if modestly, its treatment of the Burmese people."
  • Catherine Lyons, Los Angeles Times: Sanctions didn't work in Myanmar. Let's give engagement a try. "While human rights organizations are decrying the meeting as a legitimization of a government guilty of abuses, some engagement is better than none; as Clinton said, the status quo of sanctions and tough rhetoric hasn't worked."

A rare chance at gathering intelligence on secretive leaders.

  • Todd Crowell, Asia Week: "Clinton and several members of his entourage meet Kim face-to-face over several hours, where they were able to observe him close up and in person. In a country where it is virtually impossible to obtain 'humint' - human intelligence - this was no small thing."
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