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Daniel Ruth: The commie and the cross-dresser

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and former NBA star Dennis Rodman watch North Korean and U.S. players in an exhibition basketball game in Pyongyang.

Associated Press

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and former NBA star Dennis Rodman watch North Korean and U.S. players in an exhibition basketball game in Pyongyang.

No doubt an elbow patch of grumpy scholars is in a frenzy of chin-rubbing high dudgeon over the nation's latest diplomatic turn of events.

The Worm Doctrine?

It is nice to put a human face on abstract concepts like foreign policy. But in the case of North Korea-United States relations, it's the mug of Dennis Rodman. That sound you just heard was James Monroe spinning in his grave.

Imagine spending a career analyzing international nuance and cranking out obtuse tomes for such august publications as Foreign Affairs, only to have all that navel-gazing overshadowed on the world stage by Rodman, who once showed up for a book signing in a fetching wedding dress.

The book's title: Bad As I Wanna Be. That should not be confused with Henry Kissinger's The White House Years.

Much is being made of the former NBA star's visit to North Korea and his quality time with the nation's despot Kim Jong Un. Rodman is the highest-profile American to have any direct contact with a brutal dictatorial dynasty that makes the Saddam Hussein's years look like Brigadoon.

At first blush the idea of Dennis Rodman, diplomat, makes about as much as much sense as Donald Trump sitting on the Supreme Court.

But Rodman and a contingent of Harlem Globetrotter players were granted entry to the Potemkin Village of psychopaths for an upcoming HBO documentary because Kim is a fan of the NBA, particularly the Chicago Bulls. That's where the guest of honor practiced his considerable basketball skills for several years before retiring to a life of collecting more body piercings than St. Sebastian.

Rodman is 6-foot-7 and Kim is … well, if they make a North Korean "The Wizard of Pyongyang," he has a lock on the role of head munchkin. The sight of the two new best pals, the commie and the cross-dresser, attending an exhibition basketball game looked like the Mutt & Jeff of the 38th parallel.

What might we call this literal summit meeting? The Manchurian Power Forward?

There's been no shortage of high-toned tut-tutting on the part of highly trained diplomats that Rodman's weekend at Kimmy's was the height in insanity. And it probably was.

But Rodman may well have forged a new form of statecraft.

Clearly Kim isn't interested in sitting down with fuddy-duddies like Secretary of State John Kerry. All they want to talk about is stuff like North Korea's nuclear weapons program, its belligerence toward South Korea, its support of terrorist groups, and a brutal human rights record that makes trying to survive in the hermit nation seem like life aboard the Carnival Triumph.

Doesn't it make perverse sense that if you want to open discourse with a certifiably crazy head of state, you send a certifiably crazy former basketball player with more tattoos than Moby Dick's Queequeg?

After all, as Rodman succinctly pointed out, Kim is only 28 years old, albeit a 28-year-old with a million-man army to direct. It's understandable Kim would prefer to hear stories about Rodman's 20-minute marriage to Carmen Electra rather than have Kerry lecturing about failed five-year agriculture plans and re-education camps. What-EVER.

ABC's George Stephanopoulos likely never expected he would find himself discussing Korean peninsula affairs on his Sunday talk show, This Week, with a man who once coached a topless women's basketball team.

Rodman, wearing a jacket emblazoned with dollar bills, argued since Kim and President Barack Obama have a shared interest in basketball, this might be some common ground to thaw relations between the two nations.

Considering Obama is 6-foot-1 and the talking E-Trade baby towers over the petulant Kim, a one-on-one game of HORSE could end up with Seoul being turned into a nuclear winter.

Rodman did himself no favors when he said of Kim, "I love him. He's awesome" — or about as awesome as someone can be as the head of a nation that leads the world in the production of melancholy.

On the back court diplomatic front, Rodman noted Kim wanted him to pass a message along to Obama to give the dear leader a call.

Rodman could have advised Kim not to wait by the phone. But he knew getting into North Korea is easier than getting out.

Daniel Ruth: The commie and the cross-dresser 03/04/13 [Last modified: Monday, March 4, 2013 3:57pm]
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