Historian: If Clinton's Trip To Korea Works Out OK, Expect Him To Do More : The Two-Way Presidential historian Stephen Hess on the diplomatic mission that former president Bill Clinton is on in North Korea and the unprecedented nature of what this ex-president is doing.
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Historian: If Clinton's Trip To Korea Works Out OK, Expect Him To Do More

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Historian: If Clinton's Trip To Korea Works Out OK, Expect Him To Do More

Historian: If Clinton's Trip To Korea Works Out OK, Expect Him To Do More

Clinton, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and their aides in Pyongyang. Korean Central News Agency/AP/Korea News Service hide caption

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Korean Central News Agency/AP/Korea News Service

Seeing former president Bill Clinton in North Korea today on a mission to win the release of two journalists and perhaps raise other issues of concern in U.S.-North Korean relations immediately brings to mind a question:

Has any former president taken on such a job, presumably with the blessing of the current administration?

I called presidential historian Stephen Hess at the Brookings Institution to talk about the historical precedent. Hess basically said nothing quite like this has happened before.

We began with a conversation about the unique position Clinton is in as a former president and the husband of the secretary of State, and the big difference between his current mission — which would seem to be in line with the Obama administration's wishes — and the very independent type of diplomacy that former president Jimmy Carter has practiced over the years:

Historian: If Clinton's Trip To Korea Works Out OK, Expect Him To Do More

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Then we discussed whether it's reasonable to believe that Clinton went to North Korea on a completely "private mission," as the White House has said. "Absolutely impossible," Hess says with a laugh:

Historian: If Clinton's Trip To Korea Works Out OK, Expect Him To Do More

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As Hess adds, Clinton wants to be helpful to the current administration and has been briefed about its current policy toward North Korea:

Historian: If Clinton's Trip To Korea Works Out OK, Expect Him To Do More

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Finally, Hess says that if this mission turns out well we should expect other such trips by the former president:

Historian: If Clinton's Trip To Korea Works Out OK, Expect Him To Do More

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