Boycotting the Olympics (Because it Worked So Well for Jimmy Carter)

Erick Erickson and the gang at Red State join forces with Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi to implore President Bush to boycott the Beijing Olympic opening ceremonies.

Boycotting the Olympics We know some on the right who tend to view the world mostly in economic terms will disagree with us. Yes, we recognize that China is a large trading partner. We recognize how much of our debt they hold. We also recognize the arguments of some that if the President were to go, the media would be inclined to shed the spotlight on China’s abuses.

None of these arguments contradict the fact that our President, who has spent eight years liberating parts of the world from tyranny, should not give the seal of approval on China’s behavior — approval his presence at the Olympics would most certainly give to the Chinese people.

Steve Benen offers the counter-argument, which he directs at Hillary Clinton:

America and the world have a serious brewing problem with Iran and an ongoing challenge with North Korea. China has secured strategic footholds in Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and is spreading its influence in the Caucuses. China is not a natural ally of Russia – in fact, quite the reverse – and yet bumbling American policy seems to be throwing them together in common circumstances in ways that should not be happening.

Hillary Clinton or any President needs to avoid the temptation to pander to the American public when crises with the key global powers emerge. They need to demonstrate an awareness of our core interests with China and what we most want from China in the arena of international affairs.

Nukes should be at the top of that list – and then there should be a cascading set of second and third and fourth and fifth priorities with a state like China. A new or revised economic arrangement with China would be second on my list – and then perhaps a serious commitment to climate change in third or fourth place. Human rights should be on the list — but make the pursuit of Chinese subscription to a higher human rights bar a serious effort characterized by consultations, encouragement, deal-making that involves incentives and yes, disincentives. But Clinton gave no sense of a fuller, serious game plan on the human rights front.

Jimmy Carter’s boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics was one of the more embarrassing moments of his presidency. It devastated the American athletes who’d dedicated their lives training for their shot at the Games and resulted in a counter-boycott of the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. And it did nothing to get the Soviets out of Afghanistan, it’s ostensible goal.

It’s simply inconceivable that poking a stick in Beijing’s eye will cause them to suddenly become a Jeffersonian democracy, free Tibet, or, indeed, do anything that we want them to do.

China’s domestic human rights record is abysmal, to be sure, but it’s much better than it was a generation ago. They’ve gradually implemented market reforms which, naturally, required loosening the reins a bit. We’re far better off, then, if our goal is to make life better for the average Chinese, to continue to engage them as trading partners and as a regional great power, using the carrots of access to the world market and participation in major international regimes like WTO rather than the dull sticks of childish publicity stunts.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Recent history seems to support continued engagement with China. Having President Bush not show up for the games is more symbolism over substance.

    However, China won’t necessarily become a better government to its people all by itself. There does come a point when people can’t accept their bad behavior. Maybe the best way to respond are for people to not watch the games. Or even better watch it and mock them. I have a feeling Beijing’s pollution will embarrass the Chinese.

  2. DC Loser says:

    And a boycott will only inflame Chinese nationalism and anger at those that humiliated China. A boycott’s unintended consequences will be harsher treatment for those Tibetans not involved in the rioting. The “feel good” crowd will long have forgotten about it and moved on to the next cause du jour when the clampdown happens.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    I have a feeling Beijing’s pollution will embarrass the Chinese.

    And it won’t be the only source of embarrassment. I believe that the conditions in China will be obvious to everybody and spread by Internet however the Chinese authorities try to put lipstick on the pig.

    The big, big question is why did Beijing get the Olympics at all? I think the IOC has some ‘splaining to do.

  4. Bithead says:

    I’m not convinced that in the long term, telling China anything but the truth is going to help. yes, the short term may get rough. Truth often is. I am convinced, for example that Reagan’s ‘Evil Empire” speech did more for the Soviet people than the past 4 generations of ‘diplomacy’ had done.

    And while we’re on the subject of the truth and China, can I inject something here about the one world types doing their number at the Golden gate, yesterday?

    Look, I sympathize with them, I really do, insofar as wanting to get the Tibetan people out from under China’s rule. But the ‘one world’ nonsense is a complete turnoff. The one worlders are people, by and large who have tacitly supported totalitarian communists in the past, and show no signs of stopping that support. Their emotions are ruling them in each case.
    Logic, however, dictates that a one world government as they emotionally propose, means that Tibet will be enslaved once again, along with all the rest of the countries in the world, of course.

    If they ever get round to addressing the inherrent contradictions of their politics, and what they’ve been calling for in the case of Tibet, they’ll likely keel over from the guilt overload.

  5. Not to get into a Reagan fetish, but how would he deal with the crackdown in Tibet? I think a powerful speech would be in order (probably from Japan). I don’t recall him engaging in any boycotts. In fact, he lifted the grain embargo to the Soviet Union.

  6. legion says:

    Um, I hate to point this out, but there’s a world of difference between “implor(ing) President Bush to boycott the Beijing Olympic opening ceremonies” and advocating a boycott of the entire Olympic Games, as the US and USSR engaged in years ago.

    Frankly, I think this entire to-do is the fault of the IOC, which made a patently foolhardy gesture in giving the games to China in the first place – it’s not like the things people are pissed at China about are any kind of secret…

  7. Bithead says:

    Frankly, I think this entire to-do is the fault of the IOC, which made a patently foolhardy gesture in giving the games to China in the first place – it’s not like the things people are pissed at China about are any kind of secret..

    But, isn’t the IOC’s action directly in line with the left’s wanting us to ‘engage’ the Chinese?

  8. Bithead, it’s not just the Left wanting to engage w/ the Chinese. It seems to me the call for engagement has come across the ideological spectrum.

    I think we’ve seen demonstrable change for the better in China. There’s certainly been more progress with them than with Cuba.

  9. Dave Schuler says:

    Frankly, I think this entire to-do is the fault of the IOC, which made a patently foolhardy gesture in giving the games to China in the first place – it’s not like the things people are pissed at China about are any kind of secret..

    You and I have been agreeing about quite a bit recently, legion.

  10. Bithead says:

    Bithead, it’s not just the Left wanting to engage w/ the Chinese. It seems to me the call for engagement has come across the ideological spectrum.

    From Bush to Clinton, eh?
    (Chuckle)
    I know that’s how this stuff gets labeled, Sean, but the bottom line is a goodly number of those who are suppsoedly on the right end of the Spectrum, aren’t. Bush for example… and in this case, either 41 or 43 will do. Neither was a hard conservative, nor are they now. Remember, Bush was chosen to give a slight leftward tilt to Reagan’s image going into the first election.

    The same applies to McCain, in my view, though I think if we’re to discuss that one we should do so under separate cover, lest we risk derailing the topic.

    I think we’ve seen demonstrable change for the better in China. There’s certainly been more progress with them than with Cuba.

    Tibet may have something to say in that matter. What gains have been made are mostly due to the comparative financial might of China, not because of any ideological changes which China has undergone. Tibet proves to me that haven’t gone through any.

    You and I have been agreeing about quite a bit recently, legion.

    I must admit I too, find his comments resonate with me in this matter, and I wonder what motivates the IOC, here. I suspect we’d not like it if we knew, and there wouldn’t BE an Olympic games at all, in any year in the near future.

  11. KJ says:

    The acute lack of real knowledge and first hand experience with China, Tibet, history, geo-politics, geography, & Chinese psychology on the part of those commenting on this is issue and about China in general is astounding.

    As my very good friends father who fled to Taiwan in 1948 with the Nationalists to pursue his dream of freedom once explained to me some years ago… ‘The western nations may never understand or have significant influence with China or the Chinese peoples. Your countries are but a few hundred years old and yet they wish to force their values and definitions of freedom and democracy on a country that has 3000 years of written history. The communists are a very minor dynasty in China’s history. But today, for the first time in that 3000 years, the average Chinese person goes to bed each night with a full stomach and gets up the next morning expecting to be freer and safer than at any time in those 3000 years. This is enough for the Chinese peoples. Until westerners can accept and respect this they will neither understand nor have significant influence in China. We were here long before your countries and will be here long after you have gone. You can not force the Chinese peoples to change, you can only help them to understand new ideas.’

    These were the thoughts of a 73 year old man over a quarter century ago but it seems to me that they certainly still ring just as true today.

  12. Bithead says:

    As my very good friends father who fled to Taiwan in 1948 with the Nationalists to pursue his dream of freedom once explained to me some years ago… ‘The western nations may never understand or have significant influence with China or the Chinese peoples. Your countries are but a few hundred years old and yet they wish to force their values and definitions of freedom and democracy on a country that has 3000 years of written history.

    Most of which was, alas, rendered inert in 1949. Which is why your freind’s father left, in case you didn’t know. He apparently understood that freedom is far more than a full belly and a place to flop.

  13. KJ says:

    Bithead,

    Thank you for proving both his and my points. I appreciate your help.