The reflexive impulse to step on good news

THE REFLEXIVE IMPULSE TO STEP ON GOOD NEWS…. Bill Clinton’s successful trip to North Korea, securing the release of journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling, should be seen as obviously positive development. Regrettably, some Americans don’t quite see it that way.

John Bolton was on the offensive, condemning the diplomacy yesterday, and he wasn’t alone among conservatives who blast the White House.

Right-wing critics wasted no time in attacking the former president’s visit as rewarding hostage-taking and conferring legitimacy on a rogue regime. Although the White House described the trip as “solely a private mission,” Clinton would not have undertaken it without a blessing from President Obama, or at least from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — his wife. Because North Korea desperately wants recognition from the United States, critics argue that the meeting was a big win for the dictator. It’s possible that it was of some benefit to Kim, but it also was of value to the United States, which must protect its citizens as well as pursue strategic goals. This was not a zero-sum game.

The ailing Kim is trying to hand off power to his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, and like the country’s recent nuclear tests and missile launches, the Clinton visit provided propaganda to demonstrate the strength of the family dynasty to those who might challenge it from within. But Clinton won the women’s release, apparently without concessions from the U.S. government beyond a visit from a former president who is now a private citizen…. Beyond the journalists’ release, and perhaps more important, Clinton got the chance to look the reclusive Kim in the eye, to judge his state of mind and health and, quite likely, to hear firsthand Kim’s demands in exchange for nuclear disarmament.

So, Americans were freed, we didn’t have to give up anything, and no shots were fired.

Bolton’s angry, a far-right blogger is accusing Clinton (and Obama) of “appeasement,” Sean Hannity and Dana Perino chatted on Fox News last night about how yesterday’s talks may have undermined U.S. foreign policy.

It immediately reminded me of the hostage standoff in April with Somali pirates holding Richard Phillips. The key for the right was to blame President Obama for the incident — the standard line was that the pirates wouldn’t have attacked the Maersk Alabama if they didn’t think the administration was “weak” — and then deny him credit when the standoff was resolved.

The key, apparently, is to make sure positive, encouraging news is immediately stepped on, just in case anyone might be tempted to give the White House recognition for something good.