I have been expecting kidnapping to become more popular for some time now. Given rising inequality and the fact that many people living in America (whether citizens or not) have less to lose than they did before, it only makes sense. However, what I did not expect, and never even thought of, was state-sponsored kidnapping to exact concessions from an increasingly wimpy and inept foreign policy team. It seems the Iranians and North Koreans were a step ahead of me here.
Not long ago, Iran arrested Roxana Saberi, an American “journalist” of Iranian and Japanese descent for spying. Saberi had been working as a freelancer, occasionally contributing pieces to NPR, and can be seen in photographs with a number of powerful Iranian politicians, who appeared quite pleased to have the company of the attractive former pageant winner. I really have no idea whether Saberi was spying or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me — she was caught red-handed with classified documents, after all.
However, what is really interesting is how the Iranians orchestrated a media circus over Saberi’s imprisonment. There were pious proclamations from Ahmadinejad about the need to respect her rights even as American news organizations across the spectrum wailed and gnashed their teeth over Saberi’s confinement. Hillary Clinton stepped into the limelight to demand Saberi’s release as the case generated a steadily rising level of anxiety. The Iranians really played this one beautifully.
Now let’s be honest about Saberi and how important she really was as a journalist. She had a few skills and some inside information that were of value in covering Iran, but she was not by any means a major media player. Her true value lay in the fact that she was a beautiful American woman. All she had to do was go through the motions and she’d go places. Perhaps some American CIA manager, working on his native assumption that she would have the same immunity and freedom to do as she pleased in Iran as America, actually did recruit her. We may never know, but the debacle proved to be a boon to Iran, which played her for concessions even as its government managed to look merciful throughout the ordeal. Who knows what Iran managed to squeeze out of the Obama administration, which would have looked weak and un-chivalrous if it had allowed a poor, innocent young American beauty to languish in the dungeon of some monstrous Islamic stronghold, guarded by nasty, bearded, wife-beating fanatics?
If Saberi had been some poor American guy who got caught unintentionally taking photos of an anti-aircraft battery and subsequently thrown in jail, I suspect we wouldn’t have heard much. In fact, I doubt Hillary Clinton would even be bothered enough to take up the matter in a meeting; she probably would have simply handed responsibility over to some powerless underling. I am sure the Iranians have figured this out, so they went for the big fish: an American woman. America so values its women and is so blasé about kicking its men to the curb that any regime with any sense should know which pieces are worth taking.
Recent news suggests that North Korea has figured this out as well. North Korea has actually been taking female prisoners for quite some time — in fact, Kim Jong Il has been at it since the 1970s when his father ran the country. However, until recently, most of the captured women were from various Asian nations. Quite a few Japanese women and a few Chinese women have been captured, but neither the Japanese nor Chinese governments were too concerned about the abductions, as women in East Asia are valued about as much as men in America.
Euna Lee and Laura Ling, both from San Francisco, were seized by North Korea after an illegal entry while filming a documentary for Al Gore’s “Current TV” media company on March 17. According to reports, they were caught near the Tumen river, which serves as the the border between the northeastern part of North Korea and China. Evidently, the Tumen was still frozen at the time and the two young women thought it might be a good idea to mosey across. Reuters reports that they did not actually touch land on the North Korean side, but rather had set up their cameras and equipment on the frozen river. However, if this clip is any indication of Ms. Ling’s reporting style (notice how she ignores the police cordon to get a shot of the bullet-ridden bodies and has to be shooed away by police), I wouldn’t doubt for a moment that she walked right over to the North Korean side without a second thought.
The circumstances of this arrest do not suggest espionage, but rather monumental stupidity. And arrogance. What American man, if not drunk or insane, would think he could get away with illegally crossing into North Korea? Perhaps the two women thought it would be like swimming the Rio Grande from Mexico — a mere afternoon excursion that, at worst, might result in a bus ride back across the border. Unfortunately for the two young ladies, North Korea doesn’t mess around, and they’ve just been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor (ouch!).
Once again, Hillary Clinton has jumped into the fray, and, using the exact same term she did when Saberi was thrown in the slammer in Iran, has dismissed the North Korean charges as “baseless.” How creative… She is also said to be hard at work selecting a special envoy to help get the girls out of the country before they have to start work in uranium mines, or wherever NK plans to send them. Al Gore allegedly plans to travel there to work on the girls’ release as well; we can only hope that an exchange is arranged whereby Al Gore will stay in North Korea and perform the hard labor in their place.
If Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee have done anything, they’ve significantly damaged American security interests in the region. In fact, their capture may have given North Korea just enough leverage to detonate an atomic bomb a few weeks ago and begin carrying out missile tests. Just for that, I’d suggest that even if the North Koreans hadn’t caught them, they’d still deserve some jail time over here for such a thoughtless escapade.
However, one can never underestimate the depth of pity for American girls, no matter what they do. The lesson learned here is that America’s cultural tendency to empower young women without holding them responsible for anything can be problematic in both the domestic and international arena. Additionally, the huge amount of value that America places on its spoiled daughters has already begun to incur enormous costs, and threatens to seriously damage our international standing.