I agree with Benjamin Wittes when he writes that “there’s a lot to be said for a foreign policy organization’s willingness to hear out, ventilate, and challenge the views of our foreign policy adversaries.” I also agree with Benjamin Wittes when he writes that during the hearing, there should be no effort to whitewash awful and despicable violations of human rights, and general bad behavior on the international stage on the part of a particular regime. Unfortunately, as Wittes points out, the Council on Foreign Relations completely failed to call out the bad behavior of the North Korean regime, thus leading to a disastrous and intellectually reprehensible event with the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations. Shame on Donald Gregg, a former American ambassador to South Korea, for not being tougher and more forceful with the North Koreans, and for unnecessarily and “creepily” (Wittes’s entirely apt word) trying to establish himself as a pal of the North Korean ambassador.
This kind of failure of nerve has consequences, of course. The main consequence is that nasty regimes like the one in North Korea are able to get away with human rights violations and disrupting international stability, and are able to score propaganda victories to boot. I don’t know why the Council on Foreign Relations would not want to prevent this outcome–and would not want to get a reputation as an institution that asks tough questions of questionable characters and regimes–by forsaking a chance to hold the North Korean ambassador’s feet to the fire during any question-and-answer period, but there you have it; during the course of the North Korean ambassador’s talk, the CFR completely and utterly failed to establish itself as a rigorous interlocutor.
I’d like to think that the CFR will learn something from this disaster and will try to avoid similar disasters in the future. Maybe a little negative blog attention will help in that regard.