"Only Nixon could go to China."
-- Spock, citing what he called an ancient Vulcan proverb in "Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country."
Presidential spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush's position is that the Olympics "should be about the athletes and not necessarily about politics."
-- Associated Press, March 20, 2008.
That's right -- the Olympics should be about the world's great athletes and not about politics. But you're a politician, Mr. Bush. So why are you going? -- when your presence, aside from giving your lame duck self a nice personal summer vacation, will also be seen as a tacit endorsement of the thug tactics of the Chinese dictators from Tibet to Tiananmen Square.
While Bush hangs onto his tickets for this August's Summer Games in Beijing, the Chinese government is continuing its brutal crackdown against Tibetan protestors:
BEIJING (Reuters) - At least two people have died in fresh protests in a Tibetan part of western China, reports said on Tuesday, as authorities made arrests in Tibet's capital Lhasa in an effort to reassert control over the restive region.
State media said one police officer was killed and the exiled Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy reported one Tibetan protester was shot dead and another critically hurt after unrest in Sichuan's Ganzi (Garze) Tibetan Prefecture.
The West doesn't have a lot of leverage here -- except when it comes to the Olympics, which is vital for the Chinese regime to show off the nation's newfound power and prosperity. And unlike Bush, some leaders are seeking creative ways to use that leverage.
Right now, there's few European leaders who've forged a closer relationship with the Bush White House than the president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, and now the French leader is seriously considering staying away from the opening ceremonies.
Mr Sarkozy said that “all options were open” and that he would make a decision whether to go to Beijing depending on China’s response.
“Our Chinese friends must understand the worldwide concern that there is about the question of Tibet,” he said. “I don’t close the door to any option, but I think it’s more prudent to reserve my responses to concrete developments in the situation. I want dialogue to begin and I will graduate my response according to the response given by Chinese authorities.”
You know, for an administration that like to insist that "all options are on the table" when it comes to dropping bombs on Iraq or Iran, wouldn't it be nice if for once "all options were on the table" when it came to fighting for basic human rights. Instead, if Bush goes to Beijing and sits clapping in the stands, it will be seen, correctly in my opinion, as unspoken approval for some of the world's most brutal, authoritarian tactics.
The Olympics have been around for more than a century now, and it's clear from past experiences in 1980 and 1984 that athletic boycotts don't work, that they are impotent gestures that only harm the athletes. But George W, Bush is a politician, not an athlete, and his job is to wield that political clout and -- if necessary, as Sarkozy is demonstrating -- make a powerful statement on behalf of the people of the United States.
After seven years of a thoughtless and lethal foreign policy, the right and moral handling of the Tibetan crackdown and the Beijing Olympics offers this president a chance to grasp at one remaining token of redemption. That's why only Bush can't go to China.
UPDATE: Well, he does care enough to pick up the phone every now and then. I still believe the Olympics is his real leverage.