Whitley: In warped way, The Worm's doing a political service

Critics are right to say Dennis Rodman is deluded and his basketball diplomacy is a joke. Instead of demanding he go back to his day job as a binge-drinking publicity hound, we should encourage Rodman to keep at it.

Dennis Rodman's actions in North Korea could actually do good in an odd way.


Dennis Rodman angrily waved his cigar and spewed obscenities Tuesday when asked about his latest diplomatic mission to North Korea. Everybody’s on The Worm’s case, and he’d had enough.

“I don’t give a rat’s ass what the hell you think,” he yelled at CNN’s Chris Cuomo.

Rodman’s collection of ex-NBA players and street-ballers is scheduled to play a North Korean team Wednesday. Unless Kim Jong Un feeds his point guard to the dogs in the next few hours, Rodman vows the show will go on.

Critics are right to say Rodman is deluded and his basketball diplomacy is a joke. Instead of demanding he go back to his day job as a publicity hound, we should encourage Rodman to keep at it.

“It’s created a backlash in a reverse, positive way,” said Bruce Klingner, the senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation. “It’s raised attention about North Korea.”

Anything that does that is good, since only a knucklehead like Rodman could look at North Korea and not be mortified. Watching him sip champagne with Kim brings to mind the phrase supposedly coined by Lenin -- "useful idiot."

They are blind apologists for causes they don’t really understand. Only in this case, Kim isn’t cynically manipulating Rodman. They are both kidding themselves to believe their Tyrant-and-Worm show advances either’s agenda.

Think about it. Would anyone have been talking about Kenneth Bae this week if not for Rodman?

Bae is an American tour operator who did missionary work with North Korean orphans. He’s currently wasting away in a gulag, accused of trying to overthrow the government, presumably not with orphans.

Bae is one of about a million things North Korea should have to answer for. But unless Kim is threatening to crash a nuke into the Golden Gate Bridge, few pay him much attention. The forbidden land above the 38th parallel doesn’t have much protest cachet with celebrities looking for a cause.

Enter Rodman. Live from Pyongyang, The Worm melted down when asked if he was going to bring up Bae’s plight with his favorite dictator.

Ex-Knick Charles Smith tried in vain to calm Rodman down a bit. He later said the group’s neighborly intentions are being dwarfed by diplomatic rancor and geopolitics.

“We are not skilled in those particular areas,” Smith said. “Dennis is definitely not skilled in those particular areas.”

No, but it made for great TV. The half-dozen players surrounding Rodman on the set suddenly looked like hostage-tape extras. I think Sleepy Floyd started blinking, “David Stern -- SEAL Team 6 -- Anybody -- Please -- Save us!”

That’s what they get for going on a fool’s errand with Rodman. He fancies himself the world’s tallest diplomat. But when pressed to take on diplomatic duties -- like asking Kim about millions of malnourished children, his love of uranium reactors and imprisoned American missionaries -- The Worm says he’s a basketball player.

And sports can break down any barrier, right? Just look at the Ping-Pong matches that led to America’s diplomatic thaw with China.

“The difference is when Ping-Pong diplomacy happened, it followed secret negotiations and meetings with China,” Klingner said. “Things were already in the works under Henry Kissinger.”

Other than perhaps dating Madonna, Rodman and Kissinger have nothing in common. Rodman’s Korean bromance has had North Korean experts scratching their heads since Kim first responded to Rodman’s Match.com posting.

“Washed-up reality show star. NBA Hall of Famer. Seeking new avenue for self-promotion. Will consider WWE, or Asian tyrants.”

Kim comes from a sports-loving family. His father, Kim Jong Il, shot a 38 with 11 holes-in-one the first time he played golf, at least according to the 19 bodyguards who were there. Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright once gave Dear Leader a basketball autographed by His Airness himself, Michael Jordan.

Rodman was one of Kim Jong Un’s childhood heroes. They couldn’t be more alike in many ways, and couldn’t be more different. Last year, the regime came out with six Kim-approved hairstyles for men and nine for women.

“All of them looked like they were from ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ or the ‘Happy Days’ era,” Klingner said.

Rodman’s lime-green look might stand out at the May Day Parade.

As for lifestyle, Kim has been cracking down on what he considers Western decadence. Last week, he had his uncle arrested and charged with crimes like womanizing and drinking.

The original reports were that Jang Song Thaek was stripped naked and fed to ravenous dogs. Now it seems he was merely executed by firing squad, so at least PETA has no reason to protest what’s going on in Pyongyang.

Everybody else does. U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel held a news conference saying Rodman’s rendezvous with Kim is like “inviting Hitler to lunch.” Stern issued a statement denouncing the trip. Human-rights groups want the game canceled and Rodman to get out of our lives once and for all.

Fortunately, he doesn’t give a rat’s you-know-what. When Rodman and Kim put on a basketball show, it makes us look at the big picture.

So have at it, Worm.

You are being useful, even if you’re too idiotic to realize it.

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