Saturday, August 8, 2009

Who Are These Guys?

As the two freed American journalists stepped off of the chartered jet, they were

greeted by a chorus of cheers and tears. Anxious family members wrapped their arms around

them, and the joy could be felt from Burbank to Pyongyang. Among the crowd was former

Vice President Al Gore; and eventually descending the airplane staircase, former President

Bill Clinton. Gore eventually addressed those gathered with Clinton standing next to him,

and I couldn't help but think of the famous line from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,

"Who are these guys?"

Clinton and Gore standing next to each other immediately made me think of the

image of Bush and Cheney and the picture of them on inauguration day. In Clinton and Gore

you felt a sense of adults in charge. The image of Bush standing next to Cheney made one

wonder who was in charge (remember Cheney and the CIA).

Ask yourself what the response would have been if North Korea had seized these

journalists on Bush's watch. Imagine the conversation in the Oval Office between Bush and

Cheney. (Time magazine reports that Cheney would often arrange to be the last person

Bush would talk to when decisions had to be made, particularly about policy standards.)

Now imagine President Clinton and Vice President Gore or President Obama and Vice

President Biden discussing the plight of the journalists. If you were a member of their

families, which duo would you prefer?

In the eight years of the Clinton administration, this nation prospered both

domestically and internationally. Clinton passed a tax increase on the richest 1% of

Americans (without a single Republican vote and with Gore breaking the tie in the Senate),

which set the stage for eight years of prosperity. Internationally, Clinton was very much

an integral part of the diplomatic effort to bring peace to Northern Ireland, re-start talks

between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and the ending of the slaughter in Bosnia/

Herzegovina without losing one American life in the peacekeeping effort. Clinton used

American troops to restore Jean Betrand Aristide back into office in Haiti as he tried to

shore up a fragile democratic process; and even when his effort failed in Somalia, the

Secretary of Defense who presided over that fiasco, Les Aspin, was summarily sacked.

Watching Clinton and Gore standing next to the joyous families of the freed

journalists was a stark moment of contrast between them and the two men who succeeded

them. There is no need to re-hash the disastrous Bush/Cheney years. There was a two

trillion dollars tax cut for the rich, an illegal and immoral war, and an economic disaster;

and internationally, the destruction of the American brand in the eyes of the world.

Back to the Oval Office and Bush/Cheney on the captured journalists. Can you

imagine the rhetoric that would have emanated from them? You would have been able

to hear the "sabre-rattling" from here to Beijing. The North Korean "axis of evil" would

have been warned, threatened, and attacked if they did not release the Americans. A

carrier battle group would have been sent to the area. There would be rumors of a special

ops rescue mission or a possible military response. We all could write the speeches that

they would give.

For five months the Obama Administration worked a quiet diplomacy. Hillary

Clinton let it be known that the U.S. would push for U.N. sanctions against North Korea,

while at the same time pushing for six party talks to resume. North Korea was not

presented with ultimatums; rather, Clinton sought international support to put pressure

on them including pressure from China. In the end, North Korea indicated that it would

release the journalists if Bill Clinton would come and get them. Obama didn't hesitate

to ask, and Clinton agreed in like manner. The United States got two freed citizens; and

our image is further enhanced in the international community as a country that puts

diplomacy first. Clinton spent three hours with North Korean President Kim Il Sung;

and he will provide vital intelligence about Kim Jong Il's health, mental state, and

willingness to talk further. Pyongyang is a little less isolated today than it was yesterday.

Once again I ask you to contrast this with what would have been the result if Bush/Cheney

were still in charge.

One could not help to be moved by the tears and hugs and smiles in that hanger

in Burbank. You couldn't help but smile and feel good as Lucy Ling addressed the reporters

with Clinton and Gore standing behind her. As the Congress moves to it's summer recess,

the Obama Administration gets a big boost with the freeing of the Americans, and will get

another shot of momentum when Sonia Sotomayor is confirmed by the Senate. Obama

promised a new day when he ran for office. He promised that he would talk to anyone

interested in a dialogue, and he appointed his chief rival and critic to oversee that diplomatic

effort. What a contrast to the previous years. President George Bush could stand under a

"Mission Accomplished" banner on an aircraft carrier, while Clinton and Gore stand behind

joyous families of the two freed Americans that were so glad to be home. The contrast is

both dramatic and illustrative, and is what led me to exclaim "Who are these guys?"

What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

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