KEVIN LEVY, PUSHING FORWARD
The United States Department of State recently announced that it would suspend the passport of any American traveling to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). In effect, the U.S. government has imposed a travel ban on Americans traveling to the pariah state.
It’s pretty shocking to read the stories discussing how many Americans are currently residing in North Korea, as prisoners or otherwise. As of this writing, three Americans are being held as political prisoners in North Korean prisons where “they can expect harsh conditions, with tiny prison cells, little food or water and even less daylight.”
These Americans aren’t guilty of murder or sexual assault. The North Korean regime finds Americans within its borders, arrests them without cause, and holds them as hostages ostensibly in order to extort foreign governments into caving into political pressure to push for their release.
Most notoriously, the government of North Korea recently released an American prisoner, Otto Warmbier. Warmbier was a 22-year-old kid from Ohio, just about to graduate from college, when he took a trip to China and North Korea. During that trip among friends, North Korean authorities seized him, deported his traveling companions, and subjected Warmbier to a kangaroo court where they supplied him a written confession. Warmbier was held prisoner for months before he fell into a coma and was released to the United States. He died days after returning to the United States.
The United States does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea, and that makes negotiating over anything extremely difficult. Following the release of Warmbier, media sources reported that American officials had been quietly working for months to work to free the American college student. Who knows what the United States had to give up in exchange for Warmbier?
When Americans travel abroad, their strongest protection comes not in the form of local police, but in the power of their passport and the knowledge that the government of the United States of America is looking out for them. When Americans recklessly travel into the most dangerous areas of the world, they risk not only their lives, but also the lives of armed service members who might be deployed to get them back. For decades, a central tenet of American foreign policy has been that the United States doesn’t negotiate with terrorists because that “results in more cash floating around with [terrorists] who will just have more ability to apply their trade.”
As Americans, we rightly expect that our government will move Heaven and Earth for our freedom. No American should be left behind, surely. But no American should put the United States government in such a position where it must compromise its national security and other foreign policy interests. And for what? To teach at a university?
The Trump Administration has run into foreign policy stumble one after another ever since taking office in January. He’s cozied up to Vladimir Putin at the expense of our NATO allies, much to the chagrin of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. President Trump seems to conduct foreign policy by whatever mood he’s in from the Twitter rants of the day. But even a broken clock is right twice per day. President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were right to block American travel to North Korea. This policy may constrain the international movement of Americans (to one rogue nation), but that is a hardly a large price to pay for the lasting safety of American citizens and the knowledge that no American will be a pawn in the nuclear games of the Kim dynasty.