In an alternate universe, Donald Trump could be having a fantastic week. After 17 months of imprisonment by the North Korean government, American student Otto Warmbier has returned to the United States. Over the past week, emerging details have highlighted the Obama administration’s incompetence or its unwillingness to fight for Warmbier’s release.
“The question is, do I think the past administration could have done more?” Warmbier’s father, Fred, said at a press conference yesterday. “I think the results speak for themselves.”
The Obama administration had encouraged family to keep a low profile while it negotiated with the North Korean government to secure Warmbier’s return. But, given that Warmbier’s release appears to have been instigated by his parents’ April appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight, this seems to have been the wrong move.
“We do the 24 hour wait, and the State Department calls us. ‘Does Otto take medicine?’ They don’t say anything about detainment, but then of course we bring it up, and then they said, yeah, he’s being detained in North Korea,” Warmbier’s father said. He portrayed John Kerry’s State Department as “exasperated” and largely ineffective in an interview that Trump likely saw.
Soon after the interview, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Special Representative for North Korea Policy Joseph Yun began working towards Warmbier’s release, with both Warmbier’s father and his mother, Cindy, citing their efforts specifically as instrumental in bringing their son home.
Contrary to his predecessor, President Trump called Fred Warmbier directly, apologizing that his son had returned in a “state of unresponsive wakefulness.”
“To be honest with you, I had avoided conversations with him. Because to what end?” Fred Warmbier said at yesterday’s press conference. “But I did take the call and it was gracious and it was nice, and it felt good and I thank him for that.”
The contrast of the Kerry’s inaction, in spite of health problems that caused “extensive loss of brain tissue in all regions of the brain” and kept Warmbier in a coma since April 2016, versus the speed of Tillerson’s retrieval shows the value of the Trump administration’s more decisive action. Furthermore, Fred Warmbier’s reflection on Trump should also frame the president as not only effective, but also thoughtful.
Sadly, Trump has preferred to tweet contradictory nonsense about “Witch Hunts” and the “Fake News Media” than to highlight that an American civilian was likely tortured and erroneously imprisoned by the most oppressive dictatorship on the planet under Obama’s watch, and that Trump arranged for an evacuation.