There was no ‘ransom’

THERE WAS NO ‘RANSOM’…. Charles Krauthammer is convinced the release of Euna Lee and Laura Ling from North Korea came with a high price. He doesn’t have any proof, evidence, or anything substantive to bolster his claims, but Krauthammer nevertheless feels comfortable drawing conclusions about the negotiations.

“Well, it’s the return of hostages in exchange for stuff. And we will learn about that stuff…. There probably was an apology [offered by President Clinton in Pyongyang]. […]

“[T]here was obviously a quid pro quo…. [North Korea] probably has gotten stuff that we haven’t even heard about and we may never hear about — aid in food and oil. All of that stuff will happen quietly in the future.

“But it was a hostage ransom. No question at all.”

Now, I’m not in a position to know what, exactly, was involved in the closed-door negotiations. Neither is Krauthammer — he used the word “probably,” shortly before making categorical observations about “obvious” events he insists happened, just because he says so.

North Korea and Krauthammer have said there was an apology involved; Obama administration officials said there was no apology. In a fairly short segment, Krauthammer used the word “stuff” four times — reinforcing the notion that he’s making observations without any real evidence — but the official reports suggest he’s wrong.

Either way, I was thinking along the same lines as Michael Crowley: “[A]t minimum, clearly we would have preferred not to give Kim what was undeniably a propaganda coup. But hostage negotiations are never easy, and I wonder whether Krauthammer — were he in a position to free those women himself — would simply let them rot. After all, even the right’s cherished embodiment of American machismo, Ronald Reagan, was willing to trade arms for hostages.”

Right. Krauthammer believes there’s “no question” that yesterday was a “hostage ransom.” There’s no available evidence to suggest the U.S. paid a ransom, but if this is a point of concern for Krauthammer, the Iran-Contra Affair must make the Reagan administration look especially outrageous to the conservative columnist.