When it comes to Kim Jong-Il, nobody, not even political spin machinist Bill Clinton, can fully compete with the mass manipulation pageantry of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Evan Ramstad of the Wall Street Journal referred to the Clinton trip as a "boon" for KJ:
Mr. Kim scored two propaganda victories -- a chance to show North Koreans that he cuts a big figure by dining and getting his picture taken with Mr. Clinton, and a chance to show the world that he's not such a bad guy by freeing two reporters who didn't deserve their sentence of 12 years of hard labor.
The North Korean state-run press played up the meeting of the "Dear Leader" and former U.S. head of state as a joint meeting of issues of common concern to the U.S. and North Korea, not a major public relations coup for Clinton in securing the release of U.S. journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling.
But on the American side of the Pacific, it was "Showbiz Tonight" meets "High School Reunion."
CNN's John Roberts gushed about Clinton's "star power diplomacy" and referred to the Burbank fly-in as the sun rose above the mountains as a Hollywood production. In short order the more powerful A-list politicos eclipsed the story line of Lee and Ling's homecoming.
The Release became The Embrace.
The New York Times headlined, "Clinton-Gore, Together Again." Adam Nagourney wrote about two would-be characters in a romance novel: "They shook hands first, and than hugged for a full five seconds, with Mr. Clinton patting his hand along Mr. Gore's back and lingering before moving on to greet the waiting family members...."
It was thrilling déjà vu for the liberal-leaning major media to report on a Clinton-Gore reunion special. Ever since VP Gore kept the Big Dog in the doghouse in 2000 and declared, "I am my own man," these two have not appeared closer than this over the last 9 years.
The Bob Hope Airport was an appropriate reentry point for Lee, Ling, and Clinton as the Southern California airport to the rich and famous. And richness and fame these two former imprisoned journalists from Al Gore's Current TV will gain from the book, speaking tour, and movie deal to follow. The poor and obscure don't get a private whisk away from Pyongyang on a jet owned by serial impregnator and Democratic Party uber-investor Stephen Bing.
The Big Dog is certainly having his Dog Day, but Kim Jong-Il is having his too, obviously satisfied with the face-saving he scored with the Democratic Party elder statesman. We'll worry about those pesky NK nukes that can reach Burbank another day.
Though reported like a Jesse Jackson swoop-in diplomatic mission, Clinton's surprise humanitarian mission was at least a month in the making. KJ, in a classic F.O.B. move, invited President Clinton, and only President Clinton, to appear before the Grateful Undead on the world stage and in the people's hearts and minds. Mr. Kim had to prove to his people in classic authoritarian management style that reports of his poor health or demise are greatly exaggerated. What better way than to release a slew of photos of Clinton and Kim seated stiffly with frozen expressions like Madame Tussaud figures from the Cold War. If anyone smiled, it was Kim Jong Il, while President Clinton made sure to conceal any glad-handedness.
Poor Hillary had second billing to husband Bill, reduced to a few sound bites after arriving in Nairobi, Kenya for an African tour of seven nations. Remember Africa? She acknowledged speaking to her husband aboard the Bingcraft. She didn't think the journalists' release would dramatically change the future of U.S.-North Korean relations. It's "up to them," she told a group of accompanying reporters, not the gasping paparazzi in the Burbank hangar. She went on:
They have a choice if they continue to follow the path that is filled with provocative action, which further isolates them from the international community ... or they can decide to renew their discussions with the partners in the six-party talks.
Such sleep-inducing diplospeak does not make for the most exciting of global photo ops. In the spirit of the recent Suds Summit at the White House, Secretary Clinton may want to start referring to the Six-Party Talks as the Six-Pack Chat. And invite Bill to help pour it on.