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Happy Endings

A Commentary By Susan Estrich

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

I know.

The North Koreans are using President Bill Clinton's visit for all their own reasons. Attention world: Here we are, our leader is alive, Bill Clinton is paying his due.

They couldn't be happier if they'd set the whole thing up. Which, of course, they did, by grabbing the journalists in the first instance. Crime pays.

With children, we call this rewarding bad behavior.

With many of the world's bad guys, we call it negotiating with terrorists -- something we are absolutely against, except when we aren't.

With kidnappers, we just call it paying ransom.

So yes, we paid ransom. We rewarded bad behavior. We negotiated with very bad guys. A former president touching down with his "delegation" (I did recognize some other old friends as well) is worth more than money to North Korea. Does Bill Clinton count as "preconditions"? Remember that fight? Don't.

Conservative talk show hosts will get a day off health care and taxes to take a midsummer's walk down Memory Lane. Clinton-bashing -- what could be sweeter? Bill back in the bull's-eye. Oh, for the carefree '90s, when you could bash a president who actually cared about what you thought.

Bash away. I don't care if the North Koreans are using him, using us, using sob sisters like me. Two girls are coming home. Two families can breathe again.

North Korea's welcome mat was a well-staged performance by an outlaw nation, but it's also something of a relief. At least they want to look better in the eyes of the world. They want to look like a regular country, the kind of place that presidents and former presidents visit, the kind of place with pretty little girls in fancy dresses carrying beautiful flowers.

Of course North Korea is not a regular country. We don't sit around wondering whether regular countries can bomb Hawaii. Or whether they will. North Korea doesn't play by the rules that we think, generally, make "states" less dangerous, which is why the girls were seized, why the families held their breaths, why it took Bill Clinton to bring them home.

Still. Being used is better than being bombed. Lives are more precious than photo opps. It's still a happy ending, and there aren't so many of those to celebrate that I'm going to give this one up.

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