Outside the Box Diplomacy – John Kerry, Maybe – Dennis Rodman, for Sure

Kim Jong-un and Dennis Rodman (CBS news)

Kim Jong-un and Dennis Rodman (CBS news)

A time of rapid change.

One of my favorite quotes on the unpredictability of human affairs:

“Time-lines are for high school textbooks. History itself is all indirection and angles, actions and events caroming off one another, one unintended consequence glancing into the next.” (David Rothkopf)

Dear Readers,

(As you read, you may wonder where I’m “coming from”.  I’m coming from a personal tendency to question ‘popular belief’. I find ‘popular belief’ often oversimplifies and is unhelpful – especially when it ‘cartoonizes’ those we condemn. I’m also coming from an awareness that the Korean historical experience is something of an “imperialist nations football”.  I rounded up people-focused information on Korea and North Korea some months back (I think when Kim’s predecessor died), and can’t find it again. Today I’ve found these resources. They’re not as ‘clean of history written by conquerors’ as I’d like. I hope they  encourage us to think of North Korea as a land of real people, with deep history.  Hover over each link for a ‘drop down’ brief excerpt; click on the link to read the full info source.  TheAtlantic, March, 2013; Journal of Diplomacy and …, March 2013; and Wikipedia: Korean War.)

My thoughts on ‘outside the box’ diplomacy:

Today we were relieved, made nervously hopeful, about possibilities in response to the most recent and deadly poison gas attack in Syria, when

“The surprise diplomatic course opened up after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made an unscripted comment earlier on Monday. Kerry suggested in London, in response to a reporter’s question, that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could avoid a military strike by surrendering his chemical arsenal.” // “Russia pounced on the comment, and Syria also said it was open to a proposal to put the weapons under international control. (full article at ‘trust.org‘).

Surprise to everyone, then a few minutes of euphoria.

Cognitive patterns were disrupted, minds briefly whirled: (Could something so accidental turn out to be so vital?).

It didn’t take long for sober doubt to emerge:

“”We should very quickly and clearly find out if this thing is real,” said Representative Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “I’m dubious, because Russia’s been a very bad player on this, blocking everything we’ve tried to do in the United Nations.”” (trust.org)

Ah, Trust. Tough to sustain it when our training and experience for some 10,000 years has been as adversarial as it is.

Meanwhile, in a distant corner of the world, Dennis Rodman is toying with conventional, practiced, ‘trust and mistrust routines’ He insists on being friends with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un.

Next to Syria’s Assad, Kim is among the most vilified, the most mistrusted, by those whose long experience and training is ‘inside the box’.

In fact, North Korea is even included in a quote found in the ‘trust.org’ article on the accidental Kerry-Putin solution to the Syria dilemma. (I assume Susan Rice made this comment earlier, Iran, not in the immediate news, is included in her ‘strong mistrust’ statement):

“Susan Rice, making her first major speech since taking over as Obama’s national security adviser, said the United States cannot allow countries such as North Korea and Iran to think Washington would not react to a chemical weapons attack.”  // “We cannot allow terrorists bent on destruction, or a nuclear North Korea, or an aspiring nuclear Iran, to believe for one minute that we are shying away from our determination to back up our longstanding warnings,” she said at the New America Foundation think tank.” (trust.org)

Ah, Trust. Among former adversaries. Burying hatchets. Swords into plowshares. Is it possible? Has anyone tried this at national and international levels, and have they made even modest success?   Yes.  I have long held South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation effort to be the greatest grand-scale challenge humanity undertook in the 20th Century – far greater than any the ‘mere’ technological challenge of getting to the moon.  Regardless of set-backs, all involved deserve highest recognition for creative courage.

Consider this perspective. I’ve taken in an article or two on Dennis Rodman’s most recent trip to North Korea. I’ve read reader comments. Nearly all are cynical, even ‘viciously’ angry, that Rodman would show such cheek.

Reuters described a plan hatched by Rodman:

“Rodman said he was going back to North Korea for a week in December to assemble and train a North Korean (basketball) team for two games against an American team on January 8, Kim’s birthday, and January 10 in Pyongyang, the capital.” (Reuters.com)

 I posted  a comment at Reuters, then copied/pasted as a comment on another, (which, as it happens, did not mention the scheme at all, but I posted anyway, as balance to Rodman-directed reader comment vitriol). (In the context of the articles, I believe it was clear that atrocities in North Korea are not “excused”.) Here’s what I said:

I don’t know much about Rodman (I read about his childhood and career on Wikipedia when this trip came up). He’s seen his share of trouble, starting in childhood. Rodman knows the sting of being “dismissed”, and of mockery.  He’s also no dummy – he’s much more aware and intelligent than he’s given credit for.

Rodman clearly decided somewhere along the way to relate to his ‘place in the world’ by flamboyant flaunting of conventional expectations and protocols. It’s interesting that Kim seems to genuinely treasure Rodman’s friendship, when Kim’s life has likely been ‘protocol’ every step of the way.

It’s not just the basketball connection at work, IMO.  Rodman may be able to achieve levels of trust that would be impossible for officialdom.  And out of that trust, a different “Kim” could develop. (The US would eventually need to cooperate – so far we’ve consistently done what we can to characterize N. Korea as a ‘hopeless case’.)

I think Rodman’s plan “…. to assemble and train a North Korean team for two games against an American team …” is best left to Rodman, and anyone he might bring in to help it happen. I see no harm in it, and see positive potential that may not be available through others (such as officials captured by ‘protocol’ mindsets.)

Einstein is often quoted on problem solving: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” (Brainyquote.com)

I like to think Einstein was right – we have to ‘get outside our boxes’.

What better application for outside the box problem solving than when it’s used to help world adversaries discover community? Kerry may have stumbled into it – who knows.  Rodman seems intentional.

The questions for the rest of us are (1) “Do we believe such caroming is in the mix?” (see opening Rothkoph quote this post), and (2) “What can we do to ‘lever’ surprise solutions to conflict situations to best outcome for all humanity?”

My Best –MaggieAnn


About maggieannthoeni

A description once given of me was "rooted in the earth while roaming the stars" - and this has felt 'right'. I believe in something akin to this for each of us. I am a passionate supporter of discovering the autonomous self while serving the whole as primary intent. I believe in discovery of innate principles, clearing the overlay of socialization that obscures this from us. I believe it is our responsibility to leave no one behind - most particularly to respond to suffering as best we can whereever we find it, whenever we are made aware. I believe in this for the insect as well as the most magnificent form of humanity. I believe in brother/sisterhood without boundary. I believe in righteous indignation when it is appropriate, but do not believe in an enemy. I believe in consciousness, in intelligence, in logic, in rationality, in emotion, in transcendence - and am convinced until we generally practice explore and honor all this in ourselves, we remain profoundly immature. (I believe real maturity is known and practiced by many young children, and not enough adults!)
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