But while Rodman has been pilloried for praising the leader of a regime that operates gulags and presides over mass hunger Kim as “awesome,” Lee cautions against assuming that his visit amounted to a domestic PR coup for the young dictator. It’s not clear that Kim, a 28-year-old heir to power with few accomplishments under his belt, has the full trust of his country’s powerful military establishment.
“If anything, such displays of pro-US pop culture will only irk the old guard. Kim Jong Un clearly lacks the gravitas that his counterparts in the neighboring capitals carry, and even that of his late father,” Lee says. “He may believe that he is exuding an affable ‘average guy’ image by being seen with Rodman,” but to some Koreans he may underscore his image as a “lightweight.”
As for Obama calling Kim: It’s not going to happen. As a candidate in 2007, Obama said that he would hold direct diplomatic meetings with North Korean’s leader, and criticized the Bush administration for not conducting more aggressive diplomacy with Pyongyang. But as North Korea has continued to test missiles and nuclear weapons, even multilateral diplomacy has been stalled for years. Today, Obama’s North Korea policy is largely shaped by Seoul and Beijing, and mostly amounts to “strategic patience,” which translates as buying time and hoping that the regime buckles or collapses.