Dennis Rodman’s recent diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea quickly caught Secretary of State Kerry’s attention: Did that demented specimen do what he says he did and, if so, why the hell aren’t we copying him?
This was the question a mildly irritated Kerry posed to me in an early-morning phone call recently. I’ve just read your analysis of North Korean succession, he went on (Is Kim Jong Ill or Just Resting in Peace? January 2012). Your insight into Kim Jong Un’s love of basketball, his passion for Michael Jordan, and the implications for U.S.-North Korean relations, was right on the mark. I want you in Pyongyang to see what we can do with this and I want your recommendations on how we can make this formula work in other hot spots.
My country in need, I could not refuse. Here is what I found:
North Korea: Pyongyang was still abuzz. Mini-basketball courts were everywhere (the hoops were at half-height — starvation has left most North Koreans very short and unable to jump); body-piercing shops were springing up; but cross-dressing had not yet taken hold.
We need to nail down Rodman’s success — more hoops-star visits, preferably those with Rodman’s keen insight and subtle diplomatic skills. Metta World Peace and World B. Free come to mind (their names don’t hurt). If they could get Kim into a game of HORSE, they might distract him from his plans to incinerate the world. Of course, they would have to lose, without making it look fixed — work it to HORS vs HORS, and let him sink the winner; low fives all around. This will require some sensitivity training and a few rigorous spelling lessons.
Iran: Now that we’ve wiped out the Iranian pistachio-smuggling cartel, we have no sanctions leverage left. But we can utilize Iran-Venezuela relations, which are at a peak since Ahmadinejad kissed Chavez’s coffin. Ahmadinejad secretly loves western music. We should send Gustavo Dudamel. He’s a demi-god in Venezuela for his Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, and an icon in America for his leadership of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He and the Phil should avoid the hot Latin stuff. Ahmadinejad’s pretty jumpy about a possible Israeli attack and there’s no point in getting him even more hopped-up. Something by Philip Glass should put him into the perfect catatonic state to bend him to our will.
Israel: Netanyahu’s hawkish image is mostly for show. He’s really a quiet, family guy who, when he’s not putting pins in maps of Iranian atomic sites, loves to do a crossword puzzle or two. We should send Will Shortz, puzzle editor of the New York Times. Let him take along a Tuesday or Wednesday puzzle, not too easy, not too hard. But not last Saturday’s puzzle. That was so fucking tough that, given the chance, even I might have chosen the nuclear option.
China: It’s true that the Chinese military has shredded American computer security and stolen more from us than Andrew Lloyd Webber purloined from Puccini. But these are mostly kids, like young hackers everywhere, just having fun trying to solve hi-tech riddles. New York City has the greatest three-card-monte players in the world. Pick ten or twenty of the best, send them out to do a Bob Hope at PLUSO (People’s Liberation Army USO), and those young lieutenants will be spending the next five years just trying to figure out where the Queen of Hearts is.
The Vatican: Reeling from scandals and decimated by massive defections, the Church looks longingly to a new leader for answers. We should send an envoy who can share with the Pope insights gained from leading an organization whose lack of compassion, tolerance of exclusion, abuse of the defenseless, worship of wealth, and inept management have alienated millions. Mitt and Francis should have a lot to talk about.