Jacob Heilbrunn

Dennis the Menace: Rodman Visits North Korea

God Bless Dennis Rodman. At last America has someone who is willing to take the fight for freedom to North Korea. President Obama and his administration barely say anything about a country that has taunted America for decades. They'd prefer for the problem to just go away, which it won't. The most White House spokesman Jay Carney would say is that he wasn't saying anything about Rodman's "outburst."

Rodman was indeed in the highest dudgeon. It was a mesmerizing performance, surpassing anything he performed on the hardwood court. Chomping on a cigar, wearing a pair of shades, and surrounded by a phalanx of former NBA players, who had made great sacrifices, as Rodman emphasized during an interview on CNN, he was treated in an opprobrious manner by the host Chris Cuomo. His motives were impeached, his statements aspersed.

When all Rodman wanted to do was to bring a little lovin' to the Hermit Kingdom. He apparently first bonded with Kim when he and the Harlem Globetrotters visited the North. Now Rodman has become a true globetrotter, consorting with a world leader that almost no one has met. Rodman declared his "love" for newly minted leader Kim Jong-un, who is fresh from polishing off his uncle Jang Song Thaek, and proclaimed that his visit was a "great idea for the world." A slam dunk, in other words.

Might Rodman persuade his new buddy to ease tensions with America?

Kim, like Rodman, is clearly a mercurial fellow, which may be one of the reasons they get along so well. Kim's family members may be quaking, wondering if they are next on the execution list. Meanwhile, American missionary Kenneth Bae, sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, is stuck in North Korea, presumably in the sprawling Gulag that the regime uses to enforce obedience even as it constructs new ski resorts and hosts basketball games between issuing threats to obliterate South Korea and its patron the United States. For his part, Rodman played his role to perfection, wigging out when Cuomo asked him if he would try to put in a word for Bae: "If you understand what Kenneth Bae did .... Do you understand what he did in this country? Why is he held captive in this country?"

Good question. Only Rodman himself didn't seem to have a clue. Instead, he is suffused with his own importance. He and Kim have a lot to offer each other. Kim gets some free propaganda. And Rodman gets to boost his visibility. He must regret that Basher al-Assad has not evinced any interest in basketball. Right now, Rodman has more access than almost any world leader to the baby-faced Kim.

Rodman's position isn't completely unusual. The history of political pilgrims to foreign lands is a long one. The aspiration to find a country that is better than America seized the fellow travelers who visited the Soviet Union, Cuba, Vietnam, and other communist countries. But Rodman doesn't seem intent on running down America. Instead, he depicts Kim and himself as victims of an uncomprehending media and American government. He wants to perform layups in Pyongyang; the White House wants him to layoff. Dennis remains a menace.

Image: Flickr/OPEN Sports.