Dennis Rodman is the kind of thing that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea needs more of -- six feet, six inches of genuine American subversion and pop culture punch. OK, so he and the Harlem Globetrotters, three of whom are with Rodman on his one-week series of games and youth clinics in Pyongyang, are not exactly the New York Philharmonic, which conducted one of the last high-profile cultural visits to the DPRK in 2008. But the combination of his body piercings, tattoos and colored hair with his five National Basketball Association titles and other awards is a walking reminder to every North Korean he meets that you don't have to conform to succeed.
Rodman's visit also interrupts, if only briefly, an escalating drumbeat of anti-U.S. hostility orchestrated by the regime. The same day that the Korean Central News Agency issued a two-sentence release on Rodman's arrival, it also carried a report that "Servicepersons of the Korean People's Internal Security Forces (KPISF) are intensifying their combat training with bitter hatred for the U.S. imperialists and their followers and strong will to destroy their provocations. … We will further raise the hot wind of military training just as the anti-Japanese guerrillas did in Mt. Paektu, in hearty response to the strategic plan of the respected Supreme Commander Kim Jong Un."
The North has ratcheted up its rhetoric in response to widespread condemnation of its third nuclear test. It wants to keep hostility at a fever pitch, both to unify and distract its population and as a negotiating gambit. The U.S. shouldn't play along. Even as it tightens sanctions on the DPRK's nuclear program, it should be love-bombing ordinary North Koreans, not tut-tutting trips to Pyongyang by Google's Eric Schmidt. And let's remember that this is not Ambassador Rodman's first foray on the international stage: As Yaz, the flamboyant arms dealer in "Double-Team," he helped Jean-Claude Van Damme take out international terrorists. Heck, Kim Jong Un -- who reportedly idolized the Chicago Bulls and used to spend hours doing pencil drawings of Michael Jordan -- probably has that one in his DVD collection. I say we send him Charlie Sheen next.
(James Gibney is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)