“The Elders” are at it again — carrying water for North Korea, trying to arrange an inter-Korean summit at Kim Jong Il’s behest, whether South Korea likes it or not. Or so reports the Korea Herald, “N.K. proposes inter-Korean summit in Jan.”
Who are “The Elders”? The Korea Herald politely describes them as a “group of retired world leaders.” There’s an “Elders” web site on which they describe themselves less modestly, and rather inaccurately, as “Independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights.” This is not just any old collection of potentate-seniors. The Elders is a small group front-loaded with ex-leaders whose greatest contribution to peace and human rights would be to stay home and work on their shuffleboard. The active Elder list includes former president Jimmy Carter; former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan; former Arab League and UN poobah Lakhdar Brahimi; former Irish president, UN human rights commissioner and godmother of the 2001 anti-Semitic Durban conference, Mary Robinson; and that inevitable fixture of half the crackpot diplomatic conclaves of the past 40 years, former Norwegian prime minister Gro Brundtland.
In their efforts to remain relevant, the Elders meet twice a year to discuss how they can meddle in prospects for world peace, and whatnot. This past April, this brand of semi-retirement produced an Elders trip to North Korea, led by Jimmy Carter (Gro Brundtland and Mary Robinson in tow), full of plans to bring Kim Jong Il’s regime back to the bargaining table. Of course, Kim doesn’t necessarily mind going to the bargaining table. Since Jimmy Carter’s first post-retirement trip to North Korea, in 1994, Kim has exploited assorted deals to shake down the West and then cheat. Kim’s totalitarian government has done quite well out of such arrangements, pocketing a bonanza of aid, gifts and concessions, while starving his own people and building and testing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. But this past April, North Korea apparently judged that the time was not ripe for the next negotiated shakedown. Carter got no joy — Kim Jong Il wasn’t even around to meet with him. The Elders returned from that Pyongyang pilgrimage looking like the has-beens they are trying not to be.
Now, it seems, the Elders are making another run at organizing a grand bargain with North Korea. The best that can be said about this, at least for this round, is that we may be spared the spectacle of Jimmy Carter serving, yet again, as a mouthpiece for Pyongyang. It seems it’s not only Kim Jong Il who’s had more than enough of Carter. According to the Korea Herald, the Elders themselves have decided that North-Korea-wise they’d rather do their world-leading without him.
But the real problem is that they are approaching Pyongyang at all — reportedly over the objections of South Korean officials, who would prefer to choose their own time, place and methods for dealing with Kim Jong Il. That leaves the Elders operating as the errand-boys for North Korea, ferrying to South Korea the terms on which North Korea prefers to haggle. The Korea Herald reports that the Elders will be sending “working level staff to Seoul Monday to convey Pyongyang’s message and then to North Korea.” Enough, already. They may call themselves “The Elders.” But what we actually have here is the sorry sight of ex-leaders trying to transform themselves into elder statesmen by way of serving, in effect, as honorary consuls of North Korea.