Gold Medal Embarrassment

Conservatives worry that Barack Obama may be another Jimmy Carter, but the current White House occupant is proving to be just as dim when it comes to defending U.S. interests. In fact, even Carter did not make an error comparable to President Bush’s decision to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, providing fodder for the Communist propaganda machine.

It was bad enough that in its second term the Bush administration has let North Korea off the hook and has given up any pretense of pressing for verification and accountability at the Six Party Talks. It was bad enough that the Bush administration’s Iran non-policy has allowed Iran to proceed merrily on its way to nuclearization without any economic or diplomatic price to be paid. But did the President have to agree to attend the Chinese propaganda exercise — the Olympic opening ceremony?

Not only is British Prime Minister Gordon Brown smart enough to stay away, even that well-known tough-guy Barack Obama is savvy enough to recognize that it would be a blunder to attend. He remarked, “In the absence of some sense of progress, in the absence of some sense from the Dalai Lama that there was progress, I would not have gone.” At least we found one place Obama won’t visit unconditionally.

There is ample reason not to attend the opening ceremonies. The Chinese have made a mockery of their promises to improve human rights, which if memory serves us correctly, was a condition of their receiving the Olympic Games. As author and China expert Gordon Chang recently wrote:

China’s Communist Party is not only cracking down on dissidents and other Chinese, it is trying to seal the country, almost airtight. In the months before the Games, which begin on August 8, Beijing cadres are arbitrarily canceling scheduled events, like international academic conferences, in order to control the flow of outlanders into the country. That’s in addition to denying visas, expelling foreigners, and once again prohibiting non-Chinese from traveling freely inside the modern Chinese state. Police and soldiers are even preventing people from talking about the Games in China’s magnificent capital city. The Chinese central government is now implementing social-control measures borrowed from the Maoist days of the People’s Republic, and the country’s political system is in many ways more repressive than it was in the late 1980s.

Aside from disregarding the behavior of the Chinese government and advertising to other international miscreants that our bark is far worse than our bite, President’s Bush actions have done what was heretofore thought impossible on the domestic political front: he’s made the Democrats look tough.

Nancy Pelosi told CNN back in April, “I think boycotting the opening ceremony, which really gives respect to the Chinese government, is something that should be kept on the table." Coming from the gal who had tea with Bashar Assad, that’s pretty strong stuff.

In May Sens. Barbara Boxer, Joseph Biden and John Kerry — not exactly the most aggressive trio on foreign policy — wrote a letter to President Bush suggesting he use the time in China to visit Tibet. That showed some moxie. President Bush, needless to say, won’t be taking up their suggestion.

John McCain in May issued an equivocal statement suggesting that the President should not attend “if Chinese policies and practices do not change.” Albeit tardily, McCain might do well to take this opportunity to distance himself this Bush foreign policy blunder.

Democrats have railed against President Bush for “cowboy diplomacy” and for frittering away the good name of the U.S. As to the former, there is little evidence of that in the Bush second term; rather, the Administration seems to have adopted a policy of multilateralism that would fit comfortably in any recent Democratic administration. But as to the latter, the Democrats have a point.

There could be no worse demonstration of America’s unseriousness about human rights and no clearer signal to our enemies that we lack spine than for President Bush to attend the Chinese propaganda fest. Moreover, it is an utterly unnecessary gesture, as Brown has shown.

So, for his lack of international leadership and for his success in helping the Democrats establish foreign policy credibility we award President Bush the Gold Medal for foreign policy foolishness. At least in that Olympic category, Jimmy Carter runs a poor second.