Washington's in your face foreign policy is going private? It looks as though it is! Actually it has taken on a fig leaf of 'private initiatives'. Consider Citizen Bill Clinton's mission of mercy to the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea aka North Korea], to free two American journalists Lisa Ling and Euna Lee, sentenced to 12 years of hard labour. Mr. Clinton spent 195 minutes with Kim Jong il. It is bruited that as a 'private citizen', he delivered a message from president Barack Obama [BHO], which the White House immediately denied, even though its hand tightly choregraphed Citizen Bill's visit. Consider, too, Senator Jim Webb's non governmental sponsored trip to Myumar [Burma]. Mr. Webb, chair of the US Senate foreign relations sub committe on southeast Asia and Pacific affairs, has long been a proponent against sanctions against the Burmese junta. He shows up in Yangun [Rangoon] right after the sentencing of Aung San Suu Kyi to 18 more months of house arrest. Immediately he is shown into the presence of Genera l Than Shwah. Quickly, he obtains the release into his custody John Yettaw, the man responsibile for Mme. Aung's further imprisonment, and 'annus mirabile', the military junta's chief permits him to visit her, something not even the UN secretary general could do. Citizen Webb's third request of the freeing of Aung San Suu Kyi's release before the 2010 general elections was taken under advisement, but more likely than not will not see the light of day. And rest our woolly heads, if he didn't convey a personal greeting and message from Mr. Obama.
BHO's change of tack is easy to limn. Sanctions and threats have failed in dealing with North Korea and Myunmar. So America's soft power is cut to the cloth of the private. Wink, wink, wink. This game of charades may obtain short term results. In the DPRK's case, Seoul has attenuated the cold war it began in 2008 with Pyongyang, and now since Mme. Hyun's good will mission to Pyongyang, visits to Kumgangsan [Diamond Mountain] and family visits of South Koreans with relatives in the DPRK will start up soon again. Implicitly so will Kaesong industrial zone, too.
Citizen Clinton's trip has not borne much fruit now, but one thing is sure, back channels are opening, as well as more 'private' US citizens' trips to Pyongyang.
It is too much to say that the public can swallow whole such a charade. The ploy might work, but no one is fooled. At least one thing is certain, the new tilt to engagement and 'secret arrangements' won't settle well on the right in the case of the DPRK, and on the left in the case of Burma. Has BHO appreciated the wisdom of Henri IV that 'Paris vaut une messe' [Paris is worth a mass], in order to calm fevered brows and attain, good concrete results in foreign affairs? So far BHO has shown too much zeal in the pursuit of pie in the sky goals in diplomacy, relying more on ideology and wishful thinking than on the everyday reality of diplomacy. But one thing is certain if he continues this masquerade of 'privatising' diplomatic initiatives, whilst mouthing pious formula of the need to respect human rights, the rule of law, so on and on, he ain't fooling no one.