Dennis Rodman and the mushroom cloud

I sat down to write this post because many of us are concerned about nuclear war and afraid the next tweet mushroom cloud copywill be one too many and go too far. Is that what we’ve come to? Living in fear of what the American president might say while bored one Sunday morning, left alone with his Twitter account? I don’t accept that. Instead, I write. I’m not sure it does anything more than articulate an alternative reality but I am always hopeful that situations can be different from what they are. Problem is, I don’t know how. I just know I’m hopeful.

So here’s what I’m thinking:

In 2003, I had the privilege of hearing former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright speak. She expounded on her relationship with Kim Jong Il, Un’s father and the leader of North Korea during her tenure in the Clinton administration. She was intelligent and charming and I listened to everything she said but specifically remembered her thoughts about the art of the deal with North Korea.

She admitted that Kim was eccentric – the beige leisure suits and puffy hair. But her first point was: He’s their leader; if we’re going to solve the nuclear issue with North Korea, he’s the guy we have to deal with.

Secretary Albright, in the late 1990s, concerned over the sophistication of the country’s missile program and successful tests, began the process of trying to “normalize” relations with North Korea and de-nuclearize their power. A lead team of ambassadors set up a mini embassy in Pyongyang where previously there’d been none. A trip was planned for Albright to meet with Kim Jong Il in North Korea to get the ball rolling. Considering the hostile relationship we find ourselves in today, you might be asking how they even got that far?

They tried. They talked.

President Clinton and Albright sought out former Washington diplomats with knowledge, experience, and relationships in North Korea and asked them to pick up the phone. First they got a toe in the door, then the whole foot, by discussing practical solutions and starting with a pledge, reciprocated by North Korea, of “no hostile intent” toward each other.

Albright built on this and flew to Pyongyang, bringing gifts and talking movies with Chairman Kim and presenting to his young son, Un, a basketball signed by Michael Jordan. Let’s revisit that later.

By most standards, the meeting between Albright and Kim was a success. They’d agreed on mutual goals and a suggested timeline of how to reach them. President Clinton consented to sit down with Chairman Kim but it never happened because they ran out of time. Let that sink in. President Clinton got caught up at Camp David with Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat in one final attempt to bring peace to the Middle East and then – whoosh – his presidency was over.

Both Clinton and Secretary Albright urged president-elect Bush to continue what they’d started in North Korea. Instead, he included the country as one-third of his “axis of evil” (along with Iran and Iraq). Things haven’t gone so well since then because our attempts at diplomacy have been flimsy and half-hearted and because North Korea rarely keeps their side of a bargain.

Kim Jong Un is a ruthless madmen but consider this: As recently as 2000, South and North Korea marched as one country during the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games held in Sydney. Nothing is impossible, including a de-escalation of matters involving the United States and North Korea. We simply cannot throw up our hands and resign ourselves to lives lived in fear of nuclear war.

Enter Dennis Rodman. Can someone call Michael Jordan? Steve Kerr is a good guy. Get him on the phone. You see, Kim Jong Un is a colossal basketball fan and specifically obsessed with the Chicago Bulls 1990s dynasty. Why not use the power of celebrity to get what we want? Arnold Schwarzenegger and Donald Trump were elected to office in large part because we’re a bunch of star fuckers. We’re America. We’re Hollywood. Most of the world doesn’t believe that Tom Cruise or Sylvester Stallone put their pants on one leg at a time like regular humans. ISIS should be sitting down with them. We’ll let you claim our stars as friends if you agree to stop beheading people. I digress.

Some ideas:

  • Schoolyard name-calling will get us nowhere.
  • North Korea will not give up their nuclear weapons.
  • Forget “all options are on the table” and pledge that there is “no hostile intent” toward North Korea because there isn’t.
  • Remain fully committed to the Iran nuclear deal regardless of setbacks. (Two steps forward and one step back is progress.)
  • Get Chairman Xi Jinping of China, South Korean president Moon Jae-in of South Korea, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan in a room or on the phone with Tillerson, Mattis, McMaster—anyone but Trump—and talk specifics: sanctions but aid, threats but compromise, honey/vinegar, carrot/stick.
  • Then get Secretary Tillerson and friends to sit down with Secretary Albright and other experts on North Korea to discuss with Dennis Rodman how best to approach Kim Jong Un with the options agreed upon. (Outlandish? Donald Trump is our president. Omarosa Manigault works in the White House.)

Consider this: In 2003, then-National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice said that there would always be uncertainty about whether or not Iraq had nuclear capability, then added: “ … we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” And so, unprovoked, we invaded a country, which it turned out had no such weapons. What we should have done is continued talking until we were blue in the face. Same goes with North Korea and we know they have nuclear power. Why? Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq cost thousands of lives. Trump’s inability to do anything, or anything well, could kill millions. I can’t live with that, can you?

Call your representative. Tell them how you feel. Let’s put pressure on Congress to press for diplomacy. It’s their job to represent our best interests. Nuclear war is not among them.


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