Rodman’s game: The athlete has the ear of North Korea’s leader

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Dennis Rodman’s unlikely basketball diplomacy to North Korea brings new meaning to the term “globetrotter.”

Like the world-famous Harlem team, Mr. Rodman has been accused of clowning his way across the world stage. But unlike the antics of the Harlem Globetrotters, those of the former NBA great as an occasional guest of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un are neither funny nor scripted.

Mr. Rodman and a squad of former NBA players were in Pyongyang for a game last Wednesday against North Korea’s best players on the dictator’s birthday. The trip came just after the purge and execution of Mr. Kim’s uncle and while the United States is trying to obtain release of imprisoned American missionary Kenneth Bae.

Mr. Rodman is not an ambassador, official or otherwise, and he has not been schooled in the intricacies of foreign policy or his host’s brutal history. He is a celebrity who has captured the attention of one of the world’s most reclusive leaders. Like it or not, Mr. Rodman humanizes Americans to the head of a regime that paints them as demons.

It would be unwise for Mr. Rodman to intercede on behalf of Mr. Bae, who has been held in North Korea since November 2012. And the athlete’s remarks Tuesday implying that Mr. Bae was responsible for his own captivity were not helpful. (He apologized for them Thursday.)

Still, Mr. Rodman has a value to U.S. interests as an American to whom Mr. Kim can relate. Assuming he’s debriefed after his visits for insights to the dictator’s moods, Dennis Rodman is the closest thing the State Department has to an ear in Pyongyang.


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