Trump's national security adviser once actually derided the release of hostages from North Korea.
As national security adviser John Bolton was busy taking a victory lap over the release of three hostages from North Korea, CNN’s Jake Tapper called him out for having trashed a similar Obama-era hostage release.
On “State of the Union” Sunday morning, Tapper reminded Bolton of his previous stance on the subject.
“When former president Bill Clinton went to North Korea to argue for the release, you wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece that, ‘In Pyongyang’s view, the two reporters are pawns in the larger game of enhancing the regime’s legitimacy and gaining direct access to important U.S. figures. So the Clinton trip is a significant propaganda victory for North Korea, whether or not he carried an official message from President Obama'” Tapper noted.
“Was that different from what Secretary of State Pompeo did bringing home three detainees?” he asked.
Bolton replied that it was “a fair question,” but insisted that this time “is completely different because of the president’s maximum pressure campaign.”
He also claimed that “North Korea has come to a point that they never reached under any prior president.”
Tapper was referring to a 2009 op-ed in which Bolton derided the hostage release as a propaganda victory. He also called the visit by President Clinton a “ransom.”
“Despite decades of bipartisan U.S. rhetoric about not negotiating with terrorists for the release of hostages, it seems that the Obama administration not only chose to negotiate, but to send a former president to do so,” Bolton wrote.
Yet by that logic, Trump has traded not just a meeting with a former president, but a meeting with the current U.S. head of state, negotiated by the current secretary of state.
And while everyone hopes for success with North Korea diplomacy, Bolton is just wrong that “North Korea has come to a point that they never reached under any prior president,” unless he means that no other president has given so much legitimacy to the regime.
Trump has thankfully secured the release of three hostages. But there were eight detainees safely returned by North Korea during Obama’s presidency. And that happened without an official visit from any administration official, let alone the president.
Bolton also raised a question in that op-ed that Trump ought to be asked. Of hostages being held in Iran, Bolton asked, “What was it about them that made them unworthy of a presidential visit?”
Much has been promised by Kim Jong Un, but other than this hostage release — bought by Pompeo’s visit — nothing has been delivered. Yet Trump has already given what Bolton once accused Obama of offering: “enhancing the regime’s legitimacy and gaining direct access to important U.S. figures.”
Trump himself boosted Kim this weekend by tweeting, based on an as-yet-undelivered promise, “North Korea has announced that they will dismantle Nuclear Test Site this month, ahead of the big Summit Meeting on June 12th. Thank you, a very smart and gracious gesture!”
Time will tell if the United States gains anything in this round of diplomacy. But by Bolton’s own previous logic, so far this has been nothing but a victory for Kim Jong Un’s standing in the world.