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Michael Brenner Headshot

The Clintons Are Back?

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"The Clintons" are back for a summer rerun -- or so it seems to the nation's headline writers. They all declare that Bill Clinton's mission to North Korea has resulted in the release of the two U.S. journalists. I believe a more accurate statement is "Kim's decision to release the two U.S. journalists was conditioned on getting a big name to come to Pyongyang" for the sake of maximum publicity. Who bigger than the former American President (although cynics, knowing of Kim's love for Hollywood films, might have suggested Brooke Shields or Angela Jolie)? Perhaps it is the fact that Kim and Bill share a passion for pizza that pointed to the latter's choice as the symbolic emissary.

Seriously, all reports indicate that Bill conducted no negotiations. Whatever backdoor communications occurred, there again is no evidence of their involving more than working out the details of the release. As for HRC's public statements, I see nothing at all remarkable skillful or crafty about them. In the future, I do agree that Bill Clinton should be kept on tap for further celebrity appearances since he obviously has found his metier. The true tests for a still awkward Secretary of State await her, and the administration, in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, Moscow. To date, we have witnessed little more than non-stop travel -- seemingly based on the Lamborghini motto that if you drive fast enough all accidents happen behind you. Moreover, she has put her foot in her mouth with dismaying frequency.

The Obama presidency has had a recurrent problem with high officials getting "off message" on everything from our attitude toward possible Israeli air strikes against Iran to providing a security umbrella for our Persian Gulf allies. The unsettling discrepancy between Obama's boldly stated goals and unclear strategies for reaching them means less than adequate guidance for the players in the diplomatic orchestra. Soloists by temperament can produce harmonious sound only where there is a concertmaster who interprets the entire score and keeps a steady beat. For all of the administration's senior foreign policy makers, they should heed the prudent counsel to spend more time in the rehearsal hall and less globetrotting in order to blend individual flair with effective music-making.

I hasten to add that none of these comments about "The Clintons" are personal; it's just business -- as someone or other said.