May 10, 2018
For the three men stepping onto the tarmac of Andrews Air Force Base before dawn, it was an incredible sight. A massive American flag, so big it had to be suspended from ladders of two firetrucks, was glowing from the bank of dozens of spotlights. To the hostages who had endured so much, it was the first real proof that their long and painful journey was over. They were finally, and inexplicably, home.
Kim Dong Chul, Tony Kim, and Kim Hak-song got their first taste of freedom when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that their plane had cleared North Korea's airspace. It had been a whirlwind day for the detainees, who no one -- including President Trump -- expected to actually be released. "Frankly," he told reporters at the men's homecoming celebration, "we didn't think it was going to happen."
The three men, who took their first steps on U.S. soil in Alaska during refueling, couldn't believe their nightmare ordeals were over. "We would like to express our deep appreciation to the United States government, President Trump, Secretary Pompeo, and the people of the United States for bringing us home," they said in a statement. "We thank God, and all our families and friends who prayed for us and for our return. God Bless America, the greatest nation in the world." They talked about their days in captivity, which -- for Kim Dong Chul -- included torturous days at a hard labor camp. After three long years, the dream of coming home and being reunited with his family seemed too much to hope for.
"We want to thank Kim Jong Un," said President Trump, who got an unusually early start to his day. "We very much appreciate that he allowed them to go before the meeting. He was nice in letting them go before the meeting ... That was a big thing, very important to me." It was a "big thing" for his administration too. Negotiating the release of Americans is no small feat with a regime like North Korea, especially after the last administration botched any sort of meaningful strategy in the region.
FRC's Lt. General Jerry Boykin (Ret.) said he couldn't be prouder of the president, Pompeo, and the entire White House team. "I think that we need to look at the timing of all of this and recognize that at the same time Pompeo was en route to North Korea, Donald Trump was standing up telling the world that we are canceling the Iran deal. It would seem to me that Pompeo went in with some cards in his deck there and I think it strengthened his hand that Trump canceled this Iran deal. Now he's coming out with three hostages. This is international leadership at its best."
President Obama didn't have the stomach for Trump's brand of diplomacy. Now, with a June 12 summit with Kim Jong Un in Singapore on the horizon, we'll have to see what other history this administration can make. As the editors of the New York Daily News wrote in an open thank you letter to the president for freeing these men:
It was the American government's responsibility to try to get them back. The President and his team succeeded... When Kim released two prisoners in 2014, including the American then held the longest time in the country, North Korea's vice-foreign minister related the following to a South Korean official, according to The New Yorker: 'Kim Jong-un is going to be around for a long time. So, if President Obama doesn't talk to us, we will just wait for the next President.'
The next President is here, and that hope has been met."
For more on this story, check out General Boykin's interview below.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.