Clinton Diplomacy

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 6, 2009; 8:13 AM

You'd need to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the sight of Laura Ling and Euna Lee coming off that plane yesterday.

During those moments, as the two journalists embraced their families for the first time in nearly five months, questions about diplomacy and politics seemed to vanish. They were two human beings, caught at the wrong time in the wrong place, spared 12 years of hard labor and back on their native soil. Laura Ling's choked-up words of gratitude just added to the drama.

But the larger questions, of course, have not vanished. Was it a good idea to reward North Korea for jailing two journalists--who had, admittedly, crossed its border--by dispatching a former president? Did the Obama administration give anything up? Does this mark the emergence of Bill Clinton as an international troubleshooter?

What intrigued me is the media never made the women's conviction a front-burner issue. This seemed to me to reflect several things: the administration's decision to concentrate on behind-the-scenes negotiations; the non-existent profile of Al Gore; the public confusion about what Current TV is; and an underlying sense that turning every hostage-taking or detention into a front-page crusade may be counterproductive. The arrests got a burst of attention when Lisa Ling did a round of television shows about her sister's plight, and that's about it. Had these been higher-profile media people, it might have been different.

When the former president hugged his former vice president at LAX, it was impossible not to flash back to the '90s and realize that even as a mere Cabinet spouse, Clinton remains a force to be reckoned with.

"Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore did not linger together in public on Wednesday," the New York Times notes. "They have had relatively little contact after their unhappy parting nearly nine years ago, according to associates of the two men. Still, over eight years, they have both built post-White House identities and reputations that seem to have left them at peace with their shared pasts and, it would seem, with each other."

The historical significance for Clinton, who once sent Jimmy Carter on a "private" mission to Pyongyang, isn't lost on Politico:

"This week marks a curious full circle in the life of Bill Clinton, who until this week was an elder statesman who seemed without a clear identity or useful role in Barack Obama's presidency. A Clinton adviser said the former president is ready and eager for more Obama assignments . . .

"Obama advisers were not willing to discuss Clinton's role on the record. On background, one said, 'This big victory helps him get his groove back.' The sentiment is notable, given the skepticism that still exists in many quarters of Obama's inner circle since the Obama-Clinton sniping during the 2008 Democratic primaries.

"Historical legacies change constantly with new events and new interpretations of old events. So far, however, the Obama presidency has had the effect of dimming Clinton's light. Obama is dealing with economic crises and wars abroad that seem far larger than what Clinton grappled with, and many Democrats are delighted to have a president eager to embrace a big and interventionist role for the national government.

"But even before he became president, Bill Clinton always displayed a knack for jostling his way to the center of the action."

HuffPost blogger Keli Goff is more effusive:

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