Could Dennis Rodman’s North Korea Trip Affect U.S. Policy?

Surely a little more insight into the thinking of North Korea’s reclusive leader would help the Obama team plan its next steps

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CHINA DAILY / REUTERS

Former NBA star Dennis Rodman is seen surrounded by journalists as he arrives at the Beijing Capital International Airport after his visit to North Korea on March 1, 2013

The tale of Dennis Rodman’s bizarre visit to North Korea got a little stranger on Monday, when the former NBA star’s visit to Pyongyang became a topic at both the White House and the State Department. At press briefings in both buildings, Obama Administration representatives spoke with caution about the quality time “The Worm” spent watching a basketball game with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whose regime calls America “the sworn enemy of the Korean people” and produces YouTube videos of Manhattan’s destruction. And they implicitly rejected the invitation conveyed by Rodman on behalf of Kim for Obama to pick up the phone and call the North Korean leader.

“The United States has direct channels of communications with the DPRK,” explained White House spokesman Jay Carney, using the acronym for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “And instead of spending money on celebrity sporting events to entertain the elites of that country, the North Korean regime should focus on the well-being of its own people who have been starved, imprisoned and denied their human rights.”

(MORE: 5 Things We Hope Dennis Rodman Learned About North Korea)

The State Department offered a virtually identical response: “We have direct channels of communication with the DPRK,” deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell said dutifully, before repeating the rest of Carney’s response almost verbatim.

“North Korean words and stunts such as this have no meaning,” Ventrell added. “What matters are the actions they take and the need to come in line with their international obligations.”

Former NBA star Dennis Rodman (2nd R, front) and his company visit the Tower of Juche Idea in Pyongyang

REUTERS / KCNA

Is it true that Rodman’s trip had no meaning at all? Clearly, his visit to the country (sponsored by Vice Media, which is filming for a newsmagazine show that will debut next month on HBO*) isn’t about to alter Pyongyang’s nuclear policy. But wasn’t there value in seeing the Hermit Kingdom’s relatively new leader’s weakness for American basketball — one that American diplomats might try to exploit?

Not really, say some North Korea experts. “We have learned something more about Kim Jong Un’s love of basketball,” says Charles Armstrong, a Korea specialist at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. But, he adds, Kim’s fandom was already known to outsiders, in part because it was shared by his hoops-loving father.

(MORE: Strange, but True: Dennis Rodman Is Going to North Korea)

And while hanging with Rodman — who in his post-NBA life has become an oddball reality-TV character — might reveal Kim’s comfort with American culture, that shouldn’t surprise anyone, either. Both he and his late father Kim Jong Il are known as fans of American movies and other cultural exports: “Hollywood and NBA may be American icons, but Kim’s demonstrated affinity for such forms of amusement does not signal an overture to Washington,” adds Sung-Yoon Lee of the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. “It certainly does not indicate intentions of reform or opening, coming just a couple of weeks after a nuclear test.”

In July, after all, North Korean television aired an unusual video of Kim taking in a performance that featured Mickey and Minnie Mouse, as well as women in clothes that were revealing by North Korea’s prudish standards. Yet that glimmer of cultural liberalization didn’t prevent Kim from overseeing a provocative missile test a few months later.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman hug in Pyongyang

REUTERS / KCNA

But while Rodman has been pilloried for praising the leader of a regime that operates gulags and presides over mass hunger as “awesome,” Lee cautions against assuming that his visit amounted to a domestic p.r. coup for the young dictator. It’s not clear that Kim, an heir to power with few accomplishments under his belt, has the full trust of his country’s powerful military establishment.

(MORE: Muhammad Ali in Pyongyang: A Little Less Love than Rodman)

“If anything, such displays of pro-U.S. pop culture will only irk the old guard. Kim Jong Un clearly lacks the gravitas that his counterparts in the neighboring capitals carry, and even that of his late father,” Lee says. “He may believe that he is exuding an affable ‘average guy’ image by being seen with Rodman,” but to some Koreans he may underscore his image as a “lightweight.”

As for Obama calling Kim: it’s not going to happen. As a candidate in 2007, Obama said he would hold direct diplomatic meetings with North Korea’s leader and criticized the Bush Administration for not conducting more aggressive diplomacy with Pyongyang. But as North Korea has continued to test missiles and nuclear weapons, even multilateral diplomacy has been stalled for years. Today, Obama’s North Korea policy is largely shaped by Seoul and Beijing, and mostly amounts to “strategic patience,” which translates as buying time and hoping that the regime buckles or collapses.

Surely a little more insight into the thinking of North Korea’s reclusive leader would help the Obama team plan its next steps. But at the State Department on Monday, there was little sign that top officials would be contacting Rodman to hear about his quality time with Kim. “We welcome those who want to get in touch with us after a visit to North Korea,” said Ventrell. “We take the call.” But when it comes to Rodman, he added: “We haven’t been in touch.”

* HBO is owned by Time Warner, the parent company of TIME magazine.

VIDEO: North Korea’s Latest Video Destroys New York City, Angers Call of Duty Makers

75 comments
SteveBush
SteveBush

I think the USA, with one in five children living in poverty and families dependent on food banks, thousands living in tents, mass unemployment and deprivation has a bit of a nerve lecturing the North Koreans. At least they can manage universal free Healthcare and Education - something the richest nation on earth apparently cannot. 

boycottforjobs
boycottforjobs

Question, Who’s the idiot those who are criticizing Dennis Rodman or Dennis?

Here are my thoughts, for an individual to take a position regarding North Korea, he or she would need data to make an objective opinion from and the source of the data would need to be credible to the individual. It appears that Dennis Rodman did not have the data to take a position regarding North Korea, which mean his behavior was normal. What was not normal was those news anchors trying to force their opinion on him with out him during the research to make an objective opinion. 

pradalvr
pradalvr

Most people love to give their opinion about the DPRK without knowing anything about this country. It’s probably better Dennis Rodman wasn’t too informed about North Korea's history of Human Rights abuse, this could have made him close minded. More importantly, we should be more concerned with the Communist Party of China. China is known for slaughtering thousands of theirown innocent people a year for expressing their opinions about the government. Is American aware of Falun Gong practitioners who were killed because of their beliefs and sent to prison camps, only to be killed for their organs? The Chinese government blocks everyone from reading about the Falun Gong practitioners mass murders. China also sends all North Koreans back to their country, knowing they will be publically executed.How Ironic, The Chinese government hates America but practically owns the United States. China will do anything to prevent the DPRK and the US from becoming allies.

tomsquawk
tomsquawk

Yep, Dennis put on a pretty good show for the folks in Orange County after he stopped playing.....more like bizarre. Don't think he has much credibility.

JamesSmith
JamesSmith

In a nutshell no it couldn't. Dennis just experienced what the chosen few in North Korea get to experience. He can be forgiven though. He's just an athlete who probably doesn't possess the intelligence that God gave a cat.

lookupatthevoice
lookupatthevoice

Dennis heard about North Koreas missle's being pretty big

So he wanted to see for hinself and compare it to the one in his pants

jdkirkk
jdkirkk

The US State Department coldn't establish relations with JC Penny. Dishonor and cowardice are their watchword and their only purpose is to insure the wealth of the Military Industrial Complex. They were the demonstrated fools long before Congress became jealous and  stepped to the front.

BillEllis
BillEllis

Kerry like everyone else in the Obama administration is inept and ineffective,

Let The Worm lay the groundwork for a new peace initiative with North Korea.

KenRodgers
KenRodgers

If I remember correctly, Adolf Hitler loved Hollywood movies, so what does this garbage about basketball prove?

oldwhiteguy
oldwhiteguy

Okay, let's step back and rethink what the goal is here.  The goal is not to "win" this game.  The goal is to bring North Korea into the modern world, to get its regime to soften, to diminish the threat of nuclear weapons and ultimately to reunite the peninsula.  We all know Dennis Rodman is a few dribbles short of a fast break.  Bo so what?  Personally, I think the best way to approach this problem is to flaunt the wealth of the West in the faces of the North Koreans - even to flaunt the growing wealth of the Chinese to them.  Send over Jennifer Lopez, who cares?  Send them all free I-pads.  Tell them the neighbors are having a party, they're invited and we hope the noise doesn't keep you up.  Let their government and their people see, just like the East Germans did before the wall came down (because when it finally did, it was Katie bar the door at the local appliance store).  So, Dennis Rodman?  You go, bro!

고동수
고동수

Its quite funny to see all these mentals in US is trying hard to diminish what Rodman accompolished by visiting North Korea.

I hope people stop beliving what they are trying to brainwash.

North Korea is the best Korea, and US is immorally occupying South Korea against Korean people's will.

BobSheepleherder
BobSheepleherder

Being an emissary from a distant planet, Rodman is well qualified to perform the duty of being our Ambassador to NK.

AfGuy
AfGuy

And you're expecting calm, rational analysis of a world leader (one at least a couple of shingles short of a full roof) from Dennis Freakin' Rodman??

Potemkin
Potemkin

State may have it's own cautious policies but in the worlds of arts, sports, non-profits, healthcare and tourism people are constantly traveling to countries the US deems questionable.  When it comes to cultural exchange nothing should stop in the way of breaking the ice and breaking bread.  Rodman's visit wasn't official, so as a tourist he should be able to visit whomever he likes. 

JoseJerez
JoseJerez

Who named Rodman an 'emissary'? He was invited to attend a game! I believe that he was not even the first invitee! This should have remained in the entertainment section.

Irony
Irony

Protip for the title writer (who I know is not necessarily the author): If your title is a question, and that question can be fully and accurately answered with "no", it is not a good title.

MikeO'Lary
MikeO'Lary

Are you kidding me ?!?! If Obama had a son he would be just like Rodman. OF COURSE his visit has policy implications. Don't be dumb(er).

DennisMadden
DennisMadden

Yikes!!!!!!!! When a guy like Rodman (who can't complete a sentence) goes to small man town and hugs the thugs it makes me wonder how it gets press. We are so consumed with crap that we have to put anythimg in the news that is off key in any way. I wonder what the citizen's of North Korea think about us now. We send a Zombie Man over there and let him hug the head creep? I think they need to send Obama with him next time.

starboyone
starboyone

Just how HIGH would you have to BE to Think that Dennis Flipping Rodman THUGGING with K-UN on the NORTH Side has ANYTHING to do with US Foreign Policy?

RexReddy
RexReddy

We should have Nuked NK while Rodman was there.

JamesChurch
JamesChurch

Indeed, I'd be more than happy to go and have chat.  

notLostInSpace
notLostInSpace

Upon contemplation, I think Dennis saying the President should call Kim is one of the brightest things he has ever said. I know the reasons why BO should not call, but find it funny that we teach our kids to talk to those that they disagree with, yet when we become adults we find all sorts of walls and reasons to not talk to our adversaries. Heck, we have "people" to fire our other "people" so we don't have to get our hands messy. A dialog does not make you weaker; not understanding each other leads to larger misunderstandings. Invite Kim to the US so he can see what we are about. I guess this is directed to the hawks out there > what do you have to lose by having a chat? Did the thaw with the USSR happen overnight? No. I still recall the really awkward visit Khrushchev had with JFK.

LongNg
LongNg

i think Kim Jong Un is dying for a communication channel in which he has some respect. if the US, and the world, shows him some respect, he will talk serious terms. His recent antics, nuclear test, satellite launch, Rodman fiasco, etc, well, are just antic to gain attention AND respect.  He got our attention but not respect... so when he got it... he will communicate in earnest...  just like when you talk with a child you should sit down and look at him or her in the eyes !   It's all common sense, folks!!!

rashmeerl
rashmeerl

Instead of Rodman, a better emissary from the West might have been James Church, whose real name remains a mystery, but who presents an informed and delightfully mysterious view of North Korea in his Inspector O novels. James Church might have added gravitas to Kim Jong Un's image. And he might have given the wider world a better summary of the North Korean leader than the word "awesome".

VarickKorso
VarickKorso

@pradalvr I agree and disagree with some of the things you said.  First the Chinese Government doesn't own the American Gov.  The US Federal Reserve does (who they borrowed all their money from).  Though China may have these inhumane practices, it is much easier to leave china than it is to leave a country that ... just sucks i mean... words cannot describe the ass backward ways that goes on in that country.  I do agree we should work on our relations with the Chinese.  Whether people realize it, we are at a stand off with China even though we are slowly working towards a better more productive prosperous future.  China is using North Korea as a buffer zone.  That is it, they serve no other purpose than to act as a buffer zone between US and China, a pawn much like the US. They are using South Korea as a buffer zone.  But the US puts a protective shield around them and helps the nation rise to be better than ever before.  Same couldn't be said for North Korea (its crap hole).  However China appears to be hoping on board the UN train and is getting fed up with its neighbors actions (china would not see its unstable step brother wield a weapon that could deal damage to china, would you?).  Which is causing the US and Chinese to get closer.

BobWilliamKnight
BobWilliamKnight

@JamesSmith i was think the same about you . dif. is he tried to do something positive you try to be negative and Dennis isn't insulting you

JanJanH2012
JanJanH2012

@oldwhiteguy MAn you rock.  As you can see most of the other posting reflect the brainwashing of those who childishly believe whatever the US gvt tells them.  Few in our society question anything because they want to be "liked." If the US tax payers wanted to spend less cash defending against a country that can't do anything but lose a war we would do exactly what you suggest.  It worked for the Soviet Union, East Germany, could work in Cuba and Iran. PEople around the world are in love with US entertainers and society, It's our best weapon if you don't want to just kill people.  I bet most of the posters to this story can't even find N. Korea on a map. Can you believe that even normal Koreans are brained washed to want to kill other Koreans in a war rather than help others understand why a reunited Korea would become an economic powerhouse.  But most folk here are just not hearing that because the US get, China and Japn don't want that to happen. Oldwhiteguy:  you are my hero for being more progressive that the stupidity we're getting from our young white guys. 

VarickKorso
VarickKorso

@oldwhiteguy  Good luck, Kim jong un like his father knows everything, he and other officials are very much aware what other countries have.  He knows what tech is out there, he partakes in many of the same things you or anyone else does.  Watches same movies, eats same food, drinks the same alcohol.  His people, especially on the lower level will never hear of these things, its like trying to explain what a plane is to the common worker.  Most tech, music, and what not unless its military grade is forbidden, because once the population starts to realize, "hey this is... horse shit, I could be making more money here, and doing better for may family in that country" or "That orchestra would probably hire me and i could live a very nice comfortable life, and see the world"  Then you'll have civil war in the country with in a decade.

JaeBeomKim
JaeBeomKim

@oldwhiteguy  

thats how you are brainwashed, but the fact is that Korean people overall prefers North Korean like government.  North Korea is much more advanced society than South Korea and US not materialistically of course.

VarickKorso
VarickKorso

@고동수 I'd address you by your name but let me ask you an honest question, if you took away the mines, the fencing, and every soldier left and right stood down for ... say... 3 days.  How many people would cross into North, and how many into the South.  I'm sorry but the human brain that has tasted the whole world, will not want to live in solitude, poverty, and fear.  It just doesn't make sense.  The human race will one day advance, North Korea WILL one day decide to rejoin the world in an effort to reach out to the stars.  Because the world is quickly leaving them behind and soon it wont matter anymore.

CourtneyBlack
CourtneyBlack

@고동수  Rodman is a mental, and should be made supreme mental of North Korea. Maybe he can marry Mental Kim?

JanJanH2012
JanJanH2012

@LongNg As you will find out.  You're being to sensible about this. The US gvt. loves having N. Korea around.  You can map several trillions of tax payer dollars and jobs in Hawaii to defending agains N. Korea. A country you and I could make go away with about 5 visits and a wad of US dollars. South Korea is even in on it because they get the US taxpayers to fund their protection and employ tons of people around US bases. I wish the Korean people would wake up to the possibilities that a free democratic reunited Korea could off to the world.  Dennis Rodam just showed why a lot of folks in the State Dept. should be furfhloughed forever.  They are not proposing good policies that benifit this country's best interest.  they are protecting their jobs. 

Potemkin
Potemkin

I'm pro anything that opens communication so that NK can spend more money on food and less on warfare.  The NK people will quietly and stoicly starve to death winter after winter because of the continuing cold war, which btw ended when the Berlin War came down.  I hope there is some way to ease tensions for good, we can't move into the future so long as some people are still living in darkness.

Smart_Science_Mary
Smart_Science_Mary

@LongNg Building several large nuclear warheads... while working on your delivery rockets... while threatening the US... is your idea of "antics"?   What other "fun times" are ahead?  Selling them to terrorists?

Smart_Science_Mary
Smart_Science_Mary

@rashmeerl Dennis Oddman's quote was that Kim was "an awesome kid".   Yes, a kid.   That's respect for The Great Leader?

pradalvr
pradalvr

Sorry i meant the Federal Reserves

VarickKorso
VarickKorso

@JaeBeomKim @oldwhiteguy I'm not sure much more advanced society is the phrase i would use.  Their tech, weapons, tactics, most everything they own. is 50 to 60 years outdated.  If your talking about getting stuff done and being productive as a society, i might agree with you if i could see lights in cities from space in North Korea.  They might have a few pretty buildings and can barely afford to pay the electric bill but far from superior in anyway. I also never hear of anyone running over the border to North Korea, its always the other way around.  Sorry brother, things do not add up in North Korea's favor.

BobWilliamKnight
BobWilliamKnight

@CourtneyBlack @고동수 Easy to say that about everyone !  He made a good positive effort and got slammed for it by mean spirited so and sos !!Maybe your comments are written by someone who is also...,