Dennis Rodman defies hard power in North Korea
Stephan A. Smith and Skip Bayless, commentators for the U.S. sports juggernaut ESPN, on the network’s First Take program, agreed that Dennis Rodman is a “peace and love” kind of guy. Neither was surprised however, that the former NBA star created a stir when he attempted “basketball diplomacy” in North Korea.
“[Rodman] did everything to buck the system when he played,” Mr. Smith said. Mr. Bayless added, “Dennis always seems to fall into the middle of something, and it goes wrong. It just spins out of control.”
Last week the eccentric former basketball player for the Chicago Bulls, circa Michael Jordan’s era, visited North Korea – officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The trip organized by renegade news magazine VICE was for a new series on HBO. What was ostensibly intended as a harmless, sightseeing tour quickly evolved into an international political statement.
Helped by an increased budget from HBO, VICE organized a basketball game in North Korea with four members of the Harlem Globetrotters, a U.S. showmen and trick-specialist team. North Korea’s basketball-mad dictator Kim Jong-Un attended the event with Rodman; the two enjoyed a lavish dinner and grew friendly during Rodman’s stay in the North Korean capital Pyongyang.
Rodman spoke of his newfound camaraderie when he returned, expressing admiration and sympathy for the despot. On ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Rodman said: “The kid [Kim Jun Un] is only 28 years old… He’s not his dad. He’s not his grandfather.” In what is considered the first meeting of any US citizen with Un since his father’s death in 2011, Rodman thought the young leader was a respected, sound individual with a penchant for power.
“There is nobody at the CIA who can tell you more personally about Kim Jong-Un than Dennis Rodman, and that in itself is scary,” said former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Steve Ganyard to ABC when the event broke this weekend. Following the interview, Rodman’s planned appearances on various talk-shows this week were subsequently canceled.
US Officials have distanced themselves from Rodman. Patrick Ventrell, U.S. State Department spokesman said: “Clearly you’ve got the regime spending money to wine and dine foreign visitors, when they should be feeding their own people.” US Secretary of State John Kerry, currently on his first overseas mission at the position, spoke in Qatar with NBC’s Andrewa Mitchel. First warning about the nuclear threat posed by Iran, he later said: “You know what? Dennis Rodman was a great basketball player, and as a diplomat, he was a great basketball player. And that’s where we’ll leave it.”
Recent developments have added gravitas to Rodman’s actions. Earlier this week North Korea announced that on March 11, it will abandon the ceasefire agreement with South Korea laid down by an armistice in 1953. Rodman’s trip is not directly linked to the announcement. His visit came at a tense time however, with the U.S. leading a push for new sanctions from the U.N. after North Korea illegally tested nuclear weapons last month. Susan Rice, U.N. Security Ambassador for the U.S., announced the sanctions were passed today. Joint military operations between U.S. and South Korean forces, which began last week, added to grievances in the North. North Korea believes the sanctions and continued military training constitute outright aggression.
Australia announced recently that it will no longer allow North Korea’s embassy to be reestablished in Canberra. Australia’s Foreign Minister attributed the about-face to North Korea’s retaliatory threats and testing nuclear weapons after condemnation by the UN, and particularly the US, for whom the test is a likely target. The recent test was the third in North Korea’s history and the first for Kim Jong-Un.
Rodman suggested that Kim Jong-Un and President Barack Obama might ease their countries’ historic tensions by connecting over basketball. “[Kim Jong-Un] loves basketball. Obama loves basketball. Let’s start there,” he said. Simpler, personal dialogue may indeed be helpful. Some have commented, “Only Dennis Rodman could go to North Korea,” alluding to Richard Nixon’s famous trip to China. Un “doesn’t want to do war,” Rodman relayed.
Earlier this week, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “The United States has direct channels of communications with the DPRK,” and does not intend to seek any others, such as Mr. Rodman. Nevertheless North Korea is now threatening to sever communications through Panmunjom, a town in the demilitarized zone and the primary physical link for communications with the South and U.S.
VICE stated that its new HBO show “will serve as the harbinger of a new age in documentary programming.” Rodman’s episode may be a harbinger of something else: the increasing ability of sub-state actors, whether corporations, non-governmental organizations, or, indeed, individuals, (intentionally or accidentally) to influence global affairs. Rigid definitions of statecraft are increasingly irrelevant. Rodman’s appearance on This Week, wearing a jacket emblazoned with greenbacks, a Polo hat, and dark-tinted sunglasses reflected the bizarre circus globalization makes of modern international relations.Tagged in: Dennis Rodman, Kim Jong-Un, King Jong-Il, north korea
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