North Korea’s pardoning of two U.S. journalists is a coup for Bill Clinton — and Kim Jong-Il, who (much to his delight) has the world’s spotlight back on him. Kim gets to show that he’s a humanitarian, and that he and his threadbare country really matter. It’s always tempting to think of Kim as a Hitler-like maniac who’s out to destroy the world, but the truth is that Kim wants to preserve the planet — at his own price.
For a profile I did on Kim a few years ago, I interviewed Balbina Hwang, a Korean-born senior policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation, who told me that Kim relishes the role of madman. The better to intimidate people — his own and those around the globe. “It benefits him to be called a hermetic, bizarre leader from another planet,” she told me. “That’s how he keeps everyone enthralled around the world.
Jerrold Post, who directed the CIA’s Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior, wrote in his profile of the North Korean leader that Kim “tends to view nearly everything and everyone from the stance of self-interest.” Laura Ling and Euna Lee are free because Kim saw it in his best interests to free them. If in a few weeks, two more American journalists happen to stray into North Korean territory, they too will be arrested and jailed and sentence to hard labor — until Kim’s ego is stroked and another high-ranking U.S. diplomat flies to Pyongyang.
Kim is reported to be in bad health, but — with Clinton’s visit — he was well enough to sieze a window of opportunity, which opened long enough for him to appear in his full Kim-like splendor.