[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/08/06/journos.return.gi.art.jpg caption="Journalists Laura Ling speaks in front of Euna Lee, former Vice President Al Gore and former President Bill Clinton on August 5, 2009 in Burbank, California after being released by North Korean authorities."]
Laura Ling choked up with emotion when she described the moment she realized she would be freed from captivity in North Korea. “We were taken to a location, and when we walked in through the doors, we saw standing before us President Bill Clinton.”
He was a rescuing angel, who brought the two American journalists home safely. Some are even saying Mr. Clinton's visit may also pave the way to a nuclear-free North Korea. But it wasn’t long before “The Hillary Question” came up.
“Where is Hillary?” asked Rush Limbaugh on his radio show. “Is North Korea too important to send a girl?” Although Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Africa on a diplomacy tour, some say President Clinton’s mission trumps hers.
“Just as Hillary muscled her way back into the spotlight...she was blown off the radar screen again by an even more powerful envoy: the one she lives with,” wrote Maureen Dowd in the New York Times. This comes after questions just last month, that President Obama was overshadowing Secretary Clinton by meeting with world leaders himself, and by sending Vice President Joe Biden to Iraq.
Clinton supporters argue Hillary is in no way being overshadowed. “I don’t think Bill Clinton would overshadow Secretary Clinton,” says Clinton Defense Secretary William Cohen. “In fact if that were to be the case, I'm sure he would not have done it." Cohen says Mr. Clinton not only worked closely with President Obama to free the journalists, but he worked with his wife, the Secretary of State, too.
And besides, many analysts say, this was the kind of mission more suited to former Presidents. “The North Koreans wanted a high-level envoy and it was clear that it couldn't be somebody currently in government,” says Larry Sabato, who teaches political science at the University of Virginia. “So you know there were only several people imaginable; Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Bill Richardson, and the North Koreans got the top banana, which is what they wanted.“
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/08/06/clinton.kimjongil.gi.art.jpg caption="This file photo taken on August 4, 2009 and released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il (R) posing with former US president Bill Clinton (L) in Pyongyang."]
A controversy-prone ex-president rides to the rescue to defuse a crisis provoked by an erratic dictatorship on the Korean Peninsula. Most people breathe a sigh of relief, but there are skeptics who wonder if the breakthrough was won through appeasement.
Not only has Bill Clinton seen this movie before, he’s starred in it — though in a different role than the one he’s playing this week with his burst of globe-trotting diplomacy in North Korea.
The 42nd president’s success in forging a behind-the-scenes deal for the release of two American journalists in exchange for Clinton’s surprise appearance in Pyongyang may signal a new chapter in one of the United States’s most vexing and dangerous relationships. Or it may turn out to be another false start with an isolated and paranoid regime.
In either event, however, this week marks a curious full circle in the life of Bill Clinton, who until this week was an elder statesman
who seemed without a clear identity or useful role in Barack Obama’s presidency. A Clinton adviser said the former president is ready and eager for more Obama assignments.
History, it turns out, is full of inside jokes.