It’s a real-life scenario so bizarre and outlandish it seems like it was dreamed up by the writers of “South Park” or “30 Rock”: Retired NBA player turned C-list reality star Dennis Rodman travels to North Korea, becomes the first American known to publicly meet with dictator Kim Jong Un, then returns to the U.S. proclaiming his admiration for the leader on ABC's “This Week."
Rodman sat down for an interview with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday, a situation that would have been mind-bogglingly weird even if the “All-Star Celebrity Apprentice” cast member hadn’t just returned from one of the world’s most isolated and oppressive countries.
Oh, but he had. Throughout his conversation, Rodman brimmed with praise for the young leader – voted Sexiest Man Alive by the satirical website the Onion last year – calling Kim a “great guy” and delivering a message to President Obama on his behalf:
“He wants Obama to do one thing: Call him. He said, ‘If you can, Dennis, I don’t want [to] do war. I don’t want to do war.’ He said that to me.”
Pressed repeatedly by Stephanopoulos about Kim’s dire record on human rights, Rodman reluctantly conceded that his friend "loves power” and “loves control" but portrayed Kim as a well-meaning but misguided young man desperate to emerge from the shadow of his late father, Kim Jong Il, who died in 2011.
“He’s not his dad. Not his grandpa. He’s 28 years old,” Rodman said, adding that even though he doesn’t condone Kim’s litany of abuses – which include the mass imprisonment of some 200,000 citizens in forced labor camps and widespread, government-induced food shortages – he’s not passing judgment. After all, didn’t Bill Clinton sleep with his “secretary”?
Rodman, who traveled to North Korea with members of the Harlem Globetrotters and a film crew for the upcoming HBO series “Vice," instead chose to focus on the common ground he shares with the dictator and our own commander-in-chief.
“He loves basketball. And I said the same thing, I said, ‘Obama loves basketball.’ Let’s start there,” Rodman told Stephanopoulos.
In addition to his ubiquitous sunglasses, Rodman wore a flashy blazer festooned with American currency, a curious wardrobe choice given his new ties to the world's most brutal communist regime: Was Rodman reassuring us of his love for capitalism, making an ironic statement about Western greed, or had he simply left his other garish attire at the dry cleaner?
Only a few weeks ago, the former Laker was generating headlines after an emotionally unhinged appearance on “The Tonight Show.” Now Rodman, who hasn’t been this close to a powerful tyrant since his brief fling with Madonna in the mid ’90s (hey-o!), finds himself in the unlikely position of having more first-hand knowledge of Kim than just about anyone in the American intelligence community.
As Col. Steve Ganyard, a former deputy assistant secretary of State, told ABC’s Martha Raddatz: “There is nobody at the CIA who can tell you more personally about Kim Jong Un than Dennis Rodman, and that in itself is scary."
[For the record: March 4 : 12:03 p.m. An earlier version of this post inaccurately stated that Rodman appeared on "Meet the Press." It has been corrected.]