Since I broach the engagement-versus-isolation debate, it’s been argued enough times that I seldom hear any new arguments, but this one by Michael Totten, in response to the reliably trite Nick Kristof, is a terrific deconstruction of mirror-imaging by both the North Koreans and the Americans who don’t understand how they think.
The answer to the debated question, of course, is “both,” but we’ve gotten the mechanics of it exactly backwards. By engaging North Korea’s regime on its terms — lots of cash, no questions asked — we’ve provided it the financial and political means to isolate and immiserate its people, the ones we should have been finding ways to engage in spite of the regime.
What would be the death blow for totalitarianism in North Korea? Aid workers from free societies — kindly Bible-thumping missionaries from Missouri and Busan, side-by-side with German hipsters with pierced lips and eyebrows — all passing out humanitarian aid in the bleakest quarters of Hamhung and Wonsan, unimpeded by the regime’s minders. That will only be possible when the regime is so constricted financially that it is forced to allow that to save the residue of its elite.
Update: Via Spencer Ackerman, Rodman can’t even keep his Koreas straight, so he may also be ignorant of how conditions are for most of the North Korean people. Kudos to Ackerman for trying to shift the focus back to that.