MORRISSEY: Dennis Rodman in North Korea: Diplomat or dingbat?
BY RICK MORRISSEY firstname.lastname@example.org March 2, 2013 12:20AM
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un and ex-Bull Dennis Rodman are buddies. | Korean Central news Agency~Getty Images
Updated: April 4, 2013 6:31AM
The thought of Dennis Rodman rubbing elbows with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un is so fantastically bizarre and so incredibly frightening, it’s hard to decide whether to laugh or to begin building an underground bunker.
If a rogue nuclear power can embrace someonesuch as Rodman but give the cold shoulder to U.S. diplomats, you have to worry for the future of the planet, don’t you?
The former Bulls wild child was in North Korea last week to film a sports documentary. The man who once wore a wedding dress and a wink referred to Kim, the country’s supreme leader, as ‘‘an awesome kid.’’ Either diplomacy has been set back 50 years or we’re on the verge of a major thaw in relations with North Korea.
‘‘It could be a breakthrough,’’ said Charles Armstrong, the director of the Center for Korean Research at Columbia University. ‘‘It could even be that basketball diplomacy for the U.S. and North Korea becomes what Ping-Pong diplomacy was between the U.S. and China in the ’70s — bring the countries together and lead toward a better relationship.’’
Really? Rodman’s feather boas meeting Kim’s bland outfits might be the answer that has been eluding us all these years?
‘‘It may be something to benefit the U.S. down the road if they do want to restart talks with North Korea,’’ Armstrong said. ‘‘This is a channel of communication that is potentially very valuable.
‘‘It works both ways. It shows a more human side of Americans to the North Koreans, a friendlier face, I guess, if you could apply that to Rodman. And it also introduces some Americans to ordinary North Korean people — not just the leadership, but the people on the street. I think this kind of people-to-people diplomacy can have a very positive effect.’’
Let me just pause a second to get used to the idea of Dennis the Diplomat.
That didn’t help, but let’s move on anyway.
I won’t go so far as to say Rodman has had staying power since he left the Bulls in 1998. It’s more like he refuses to go away. His tattoos aren’t a big deal anymore. Everyone seems to have them now. The piercings? A dime
a dozen. I don’t know what Rodman’s allure is. Yet there he was in North Korea last week, the unwitting carrier of an olive branch.
Maybe it’s not such a stretch. Kim’s father, Kim Jong-Il, was a huge fan of the Bulls and Michael Jordan. Basketball is very popular in North Korea, where the game is played in schools and in clubs. When former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright went to the country to negotiate a missile deal with Kim Jong-Il in 2000, she gave the dictator a basketball signed by Jordan.
North Korea considers the United States ‘‘the sworn enemy of the Korean people.’’ We’re not happy with their recent nuclear test.
The State Department called Rodman’s visit a ‘‘private trip by a private individual.’’ Perhaps it’s concerned the visit will give legitimacy to a repressive leader.
‘‘This is a trip that clearly wasn’t authorized by the U.S. government,’’ Armstrong said. ‘‘It’s not clear that the Obama administration is very happy about Rodman having done this, especially since right now they’re trying to send a stern message to North Korea. The U.S. is leading a campaign to increase sanctions on North Korea after the nuclear test last month.
‘‘Now, for one of their most high-profile sports figures to show up in North Korea saying that he’s Kim Jong-Un’s ‘best friend for life’ is sort of sending a mixed message as far as the U.S. government is concerned.’’
Rodman told a Chinese government news agency that the 30-year-old dictator is like Kim’s “grandfather and his father, who are great leaders; he is an awesome kid, very honest and loves his wife so much.’’
Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Sung were great leaders if you’re a fan of widespread starvation and labor camps.
‘‘I was a little bit troubled by the effusive praise he heaped upon Kim Jong-Un and his father and grandfather,’’ Armstrong said. ‘‘It might not have been the most circumspect thing to do. He also said he loved the North Korean people, and the North Korean people seemed to love him. It’s not often, if ever, that we see an American go to North Korea and be welcome.’’
And when was the last time a former guest on ‘‘Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew’’ was hot on the trail of lasting peace? How about never, sports fans?