Dennis Rodman’s trip to North Korea, one of the most isolated countries in the world, made some people cringe at the idea that former the former basketball super star would call a leader who recently killed his uncle a friend. But while critics say the trip was useless, others disagree.
"I am sorry. I am not the President. I am not an ambassador. I am Dennis Rodman," he stated. He started with an apology but soon was overwhelmed with tears about the reaction to his recent trip to North Korea. Rodman explained all he wanted to do was “Just show the world that we can actually get along and be happy for one day,” he said.
The idea wasn't popular in the U.S. Neither was it in neighboring South Korea where social media comments about his trip were not always complimentary.. But all along, Rodman said he was not interested in politics.
Although he did sing happy birthday to North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un.
Dan Pinkston is Deputy Director for Northeast Asia at the International Crisis Group. He said the basketball player meant well. “Dennis Rodman is a private citizen. Sportsmen going there are demonstrating to the North Korean leadership and North Korean people that Americans and others are not evil,” he explained.
Michael O'Hanlon, at the Brookings Institution, grew up watching basketball. He said the brouhaha around Rodman’s trip is a commotion over nothing. "For those of us who have watched his career, I believe he’s acting the way Dennis Rodman always does," he said.
O’Hanlon said the important thing is what the world has learned about the young North Korean leader. And it should be taken seriously. “I think we’ve learned that he’s willing to be brutal, that he is his grandfather’s grandson and his father’s son. He’s acting in the Kim tradition. This is not a nice group of people," O'Hanlon noted. "They have ruled over the last Stalinist regime on Earth. They are as brutal as anyone on the planet in that period of time.”
Although there was never any evidence that Kim Jong Un was going to be different, O’Hanlon said he was hoping Mr. Kim would be a reformist considering his western education. “Unfortunately this execution of his uncle, who was the closest to China as anybody in the North Korean Ruling elite as far as I understand, is probably a bad sign because that suggests that even a person who’s open to reform is not going to be tolerated,” he stated.
O'Hanlon said Rodman or not, sports diplomacy can't do much for a country like North Korea. But a vision of a different kind of relationship with the country, he said, is worth exploring.