To begin: keep in mind that the North Korean government does nothing "nice" unless they have been offered a bribe. So what did they receive, or at least hope to gain, from releasing the 2 journalists?
News reports have detailed that the North Koreans specifically requested (demanded?) Bill Clinton as a negotiator: this alone gives them the appearance of equivalence with a superpower. For Clinton, of course, anything that puts him back in the spotlight must be good, and if it causes discomfiture to the Obama Administration, all the better! The maneuver allows him and Hillary to play good cop/bad cop and Obama is not in the game.
That we should not be negotiating with terrorists has been forgotten: even the W. Bush Administration did not adhere to the principal.
Take a look at the official picture! Kim the Elder with Clinton and his posse in the background. For Kim this is a propaganda coup, putting him on the same level as the U.S., in fact wagging the U.S. with impunity! Symbolism means quite a bit to such regimes: news reports also tell us that Clinton was met at the airport by Kim's nuclear-weapons negotiator. Again, the symbolism here shows us what might be the real agenda.
Gordon Chang in today's (Aug. 5) Wall Street Journal (p.A 13) hopes that Clinton is NOT negotiating one-on-one with the North Koreans about their development of nuclear weapons. If he is doing so, whether officially or unofficially, Kim wins, because he is betting that eventually the Obama Administration will give him more carrots in exchange for his signature on a piece of paper, any of whose conditions he and Kim the Junior will of course ignore.
So what did the North Koreans gain by hostage-taking? At the very least they hustled a former President of the United States, whom they requested (demanded?) onto their territory for propaganda purposes. (Let the mountain come to Mohammed!) They have embarrassed the Obama Administration by doing an end-run around it. At the worst they may have opened up the one-on-one nuclear talks with the U.S. which they have demanded for years.
For the Clintons, this was a win-win situation, since their personal ambition trumps any concern for long-term U.S. security. If the Obama administration continues to deteriorate, it is not impossible for Hillary Clinton to mount a challenge even in 2012, although more likely would be some sort of sabotage to hasten his downfall and pave the way for a 2016 run.
For Obama, it is interesting to see him out-maneuvered by them, and appalling to see him out-maneuvered by the Kims. Unfortunately, it was also to be expected, given Obama's belief in his personal charm being able to overwhelm the world's dictators.
Kim the Elder wins again, preparing a smoother path for his son's take-over. In the present era of appeasement with its rewarding of bad behavior, we can only foresee a future where North Korea will continue to cause trouble world-wide (do not forget their nuclear aid to Syria), until somebody decides - in Israeli fashion - that enough is enough. Until then, the Kims remain unbeaten, and like the Somali pirates continue to take hostages at will with no repercussions.
And America loses all around.