Michael Cohen seems to me to be quite right to be skeptical that cultural exchanges of the sort typified by the New York Philharmonic’s recent visit to Pyongyang could play a constructive role in “opening things up” in North Korea. The DPRK is just too despotic and locked-down for whatever you might want to communicate to the North Korean people to get through. But that said, I also don’t understand the worry that a visit of this sort will “provide international credibility to a terrible regime (probably the worst in the world).” I mean, how so?
Someone says to you “North Korea, that’s gotta the worst regime in the world.” Then you reply, “no, no, the New York Philharmonic played there, it can’t be so bad.” And then what — he’s supposed to say back “man, you’re right, I suddenly find Kim Jong-Il very credible!” I mean, it is what it is; the DPRK is an incredibly horrible regime and I never hear anyone say otherwise. I oftentimes detect a disturbing level of subjectivism in foreign policy circles, as if people are seriously at risk of forgetting that the US is a mighty superpower and North Korea is ruled by awful despots and thus a top priority to be to find symbolic ways of endlessly reiterating those facts.