Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Diplomacy? Fuhgeddaboudit!

How many times have you heard news about the stalled Mideast peace process, failed talks in Northern Ireland, or increasing tensions and thought to yourself "If we could only get these mealy-mouthed diplomats out of the way and sit down and talk like real people!".  Well, that's what Robert Egan thought, and in his new book Eating With the Enemy: how I waged peace with North Korea from my bbq shack in Hackensack, he explains how we went from being an ex-druggie high-school dropout to accompanying Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-PA) on a trip to North Korea to negotiate for the recovery of the captured Navy ship the U.S.S. Pueblo.
Egan's initial interest was in finding MIAs and POWs still in Vietnam, and during the early 1980's he began inviting the Vietnamese delegation to the U.N. over to eat at his restaurant, '"Cubby's".  He helped a Vietnamese official defect.  He testified before a Senate Select Committee about missing POWs.  The FBI began asking him questions.  And in 1993, when North Korea wanted to establish a back-door diplomatic channel to the White House, the phone rang at Cubby's.
This book reads a little like Tony Soprano meets Kim Jong Il, only without anyone getting whacked in an Italian restaurant.  On the one hand you can't help agreeing with Egan's idea that "why can't an ordinary guy have a solution to an extraordinary problem?".  But you also can't help feeling that he is in way over his head, and you won't be a bit surprised to find out that the U.S.S. Pueblo is still docked in the Taedong River.  This book is just crying out to be made into a movie, but as far as changing the way we deal with foreign countries?  Fuhgeddaboudit.

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