Quora question: President Trump got Otto Warmbier back from North Korea. Could President Obama have done it?

My response:  First, President Trump did not secure the release of Otto Warmbier from North Korea. Warmbier had been in a coma for a year, Pyongyang claimed, but the U.S. State Department only learned of the man’s condition one week prior to his release. It was at that time that the State Department began negotiations to return Warmbier to the United States.(1)

Secondly, North Korea used the only tool in its arsenal that has any effect on the U.S: the kidnap and release of a foreign national after achieving concessions. Pyongyang’s action is indefensible, but it sets the stage for negotiation without the risk of military reprisal. North Korea maintains credibility by delivering the prisoner after extracting concessions.

North Korea had to be keenly aware of Warmbier’s deteriorating health. This fact would have added urgency to negotiate—a dead man being far less of a bargaining chip and more likely to invoke the ire of the United States.

Also, let’s not forget that Warmbier was a willing visitor to North Korea who broke the law there. While his actions would not have warranted an extreme sentence of 15 years at hard labor in the West, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un does not set his watch by Western standards. Given his enmity toward the U.S., Kim Jong-un probably felt justified with the sentence.

Your assumption that President Trump somehow interceded on Warmbier ‘s behalf is simply not borne out by the facts, nor is your trolling question regarding Barack Obama relevant.

(1) Why Kim agreed to release Otto Warmbier


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