August 6, 2009

From AC360, David Gergen takes Heritage Foundation and Townhall contributor Peter Brookes to task over the release of journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, and whether the American government gave anything up in the negotiations to get them back to the United States.

I think it's about time we're talking instead of the aggressive tone we've taken under the Bush administration, where the first reflex is to threaten to drop a bomb on someone's head, or label them part of an "Axis of Evil", and then wonder why they might want weapons of their own.

Of course nothing the Obama administration does is going to satisfy any of the right wingers out there, especially if it involves Bill Clinton to boot. Had this been St. Ronnie making this deal, they'd have been singing his praises to the heavens.

HILL: They are home now.

Digging deeper, though, on the global implications of how they got home, what Tom Foreman was talking about before the break. Of course, this meeting all happened at a time when North Korea hasn't hesitated to test nukes and missiles and on the heels of news that three more Americans are now being held in a country America also does not have a diplomatic relationship with, Iran.

So, does this pump up one dictator and perhaps embolden others?

We're joined now by senior political analyst David Gergen, and Peter Brookes, former Pentagon official in the Bush administration and also currently with the Heritage Foundation.

Gentlemen, good to have both of you with us.


HILL: David, I want to start with you. It -- it's almost impossible to ignore the message many people are saying this sends to North Korea and, for that matter, to other nations, as we just mentioned, who may be on shaky ground with the U.S., that, the next time they have U.S. citizens in their custody, they can use them as bargaining chips for perhaps access to high-level U.S. politicians, essentially rewarding bad behavior.

So, David, how does the U.S. keep that from happening?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, Erica, I think this sends a -- a more important message to the world, and that is that America is a country that cares about its own, that it will go to great lengths, a former president will fly around the world, in effect, to bring back two innocent, brave Americans, to reunite them with their families, and that individuals matter in this country.

And, in this situation, we didn't give anything away. It's not as if there was a bargain or a negotiation. Rather, it was that we had a brutal regime that captured these two young women, and, after four-and-a-half months, harrowing months for them, essentially said, we're willing to give them back to you; all you have to do is send the president, a former president.

And that former president had the generosity, compassion and, I think -- generosity to go there. This -- so, this is a moment for, I think, for most of us, it is a heartwarming moment. And it's -- it's churlish, it seems to me, to -- to question whether this somehow sends a terrible message about America. I think it sends exactly the right message about who we are as Americans.

HILL: David, there are people, though, who are questioning that.

In fact, we got a text -- a question to -- from a viewer to text 360 tonight.

And, Peter, I want to pose this to you.


HILL: The viewer writes in: "I'm glad the girls are home safe and well. But did we just negotiate for hostages?"

What's your take?

BROOKES: That's a big question. I mean, you know, it is -- you can't argue with the success of the humanitarian effort.

But there are other things here on the table. The relationship with North Korea is much bigger than these young journalists, the nuclear issue, the missiles, and things along that line. And, in some cases, that is how it's going to be seen, that we did ransom people in this case.

Now, the important thing, I think, here in the United States, we're all very happy that these ladies are home with their families. That's -- there's no question about that. But how does the rest of the world see this?

I mean, if you see the differences between how the Obama administration is portraying this and how North Korea is portraying it, they're saying that they did convey a message from President Obama, even though the White House says they didn't.

HILL: Although, in many ways, Peter, is that...

BROOKES: They talked for three hours about a whole host of issues.

HILL: Is that really a surprise, though? I mean, one would probably expect that North Korea is looking at this very different from the way the U.S. is viewing this visit, just based on that picture alone...

BROOKES: But that's...

HILL: ... of Kim Jong Il and President Clinton.

BROOKES: That's critically important, because how are they going to see this? Are they going to see that it's OK that they brutalize their people, that they keep hundreds of thousands of people in political prison camps, that they light off nukes, that they send missiles in the direction of the United States, because they got a very large concession from the United States?

You know, the use of a president or a former president as political capital is -- should be used very cautiously.

HILL: Well, moving forward...


BROOKES: And, so, I think it's just critically important.


GERGEN: Peter -- Peter, I don't understand why you accept the word of the North Korean government about what happened in the conversations over those of the American government.

BROOKES: I don't.

GERGEN: Well, then why -- then why -- then why are...


BROOKES: The question here is -- the question here is, is that this is how the North Koreans perceive it.

GERGEN: No, but...

BROOKES: But, David, I have been to North Korea. I have dealt with the North Koreans. I know what we're dealing with here. And it's how they see it. It's not necessarily how just we see it.

GERGEN: But it's important -- it's also important what's right. That is the largest question.

BROOKES: I don't think it was necessarily...

GERGEN: And the largest question is -- is whether it's right, if you don't have to give anything away. And the only reason you believe that we gave something away is, you don't believe what the American government is saying. You believe what the North Koreans are saying.

BROOKES: No, that's not true, David.

GERGEN: Well, then...


BROOKES: You shouldn't put words in my mouth.

The fact of the matter is that this mission probably could have been accomplished without sending President Clinton.

GERGEN: How do you know that? How do you know that?

BROOKES: The fact is, is that Bill Richardson has done a number -- has done at least two missions in North Korea.


HILL: Although we have heard reports, Peter, that -- that the North Korean government rejected the idea of Bill Richardson, that they rejected the idea of John Kerry.

BROOKES: I have not -- I have not heard that confirmed.

HILL: But I do want to...

BROOKES: I have not heard that confirmed.

HILL: I do want to move forward, because we're very tight on time. In fact, we're probably out of time. But I want to ask one question quickly.

And, David, I will start with you.


HILL: Is there a chance that this trip, though, could, in fact, maybe bring North Korea back to the negotiating table when it comes to nuclear weapons?

GERGEN: Well, we don't know that, because they -- the administration did try to keep the two issues separate.

To be honest with you, President Clinton spent three hours with Kim Jong Il. He's only been -- had a -- given a very brief reading now to the White House. The White House is eager to get a full debriefing.

But there are no indications, none, that any concessions were made by the Americans. The hope is that this is a signal by North Korea that they would like to have a -- perhaps get back into serious conversations about their nuclear capacity.

But the Americans are not going to give concessions willy-nilly because of this. We got the girls hope, thank goodness.

HILL: So many questions that will be answered in those debriefs. Many of us would like to be a fly on the wall. However, I have a feeling we won't know everything.


HILL: David Gergen, Peter Brookes, appreciate both of you offering your insight tonight.

BROOKES: Thank you.

HILL: Thank you.

GERGEN: Thank you.

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