BILL Clinton's dignified rescue of the two young American journalists from the claws of the Insufferable North Korean regime was the stuff of high drama. Its detail reads like a movie script - indeed it may become one - and the fact that such a complex and potentially gaffe-prone operation should have been carried out without any detectable flaw is indeed impressive. No doubt the Republican Party or Fox News will find fault somehow or other but most people will be filled with admiration that such an audacious initiative could have been mounted without a single word leaking out in advance and completed in a matter of thirty-six hours.

For a variety of reasons former President Clinton has found it difficult to define a role for himself during the past decade. But the North Korean president knew that Mr Clinton was the man for this job, his status still such that it could be shared in photographs for posterity and his deep involvement in earlier attempts at mutual understanding on nuclear issues such that he could quickly understand anything that North Korea wanted to say to the Obama administration on the subject.

It could be, of course, that the whole incident was little more than a vanity project before Kim Jong-il steps down but if that is the case nothing substantive will have been risked or lost on the American side and a humanitarian gesture will have succeeded.


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