Boycotting the Olympics?
Many prominent public figures, such as Laura Ingraham, Nancy Pelosi, and Hillary Clinton are pushing George Bush to boycott the opening ceremony at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The reasoning behind this is that China’s brutal treatment of protesters in Tibet deserves some punishment, and what better punishment than a public humiliation before the entire world?
Quite a few others agree with this point of view. Chinese Olympic organizers prepared a “Journey of Harmony”, where the Olympic torch would be carried though cities around the world. Predictably, opponents of China’s communist, totalitarian regime took the opportunity to express their disapproval of the government, so the torch bearing ceremony has been a bit bumpy. In San Fransisco, the torch disappeared entirely, and the march descended into chaos.
So should the U.S. boycott some or all of the Games? Really, the question should not be on the table. When the decision was made to let China host the 2008 Olympics, it’s not like China had an outstanding, or even acceptable, civil rights record. Tiananmen Square, the extermination of dissenters, and the censored press were all well-known Chinese crimes. China’s poor record in human rights was common knowledge. This issue should be a moot point—China never should have gotten the chance to host the Olympics.
Unfortunately, we don’t like in an ideal world; we live in the one we have. So should the U.S. boycott the Olympics, or at least the opening ceremony? No. That sort of thing doesn’t usually work. China would get some bad PR, there would be a brief controversy, and things would go back to normal. Thinking the China would consider changing its human rights policy because George Bush isn’t at the Olympics makes those who think that talking with Iran is our only possible course seem like cynical, hard-headed realists.
Remember the 1980 Olympics? If you’re an American, you probably don’t, since the U.S. boycotted those Games to protest the Soviet Union’s involvement in world affairs. The Soviet Union responded by boycotting the 1984 Olympics in Los Angles. Does anyone feel that these boycotts made a difference?
In 1936, Hitler’s Germany held the Olympics. The U.S. attended those games—and Jesse Owens humiliated the “pure-blooded” Germans. He caused much more Aryan humiliation than a boycott ever could have.
If the U.S. wants to made a difference in China’s treatment of its citizens, there are many effective ways to apply pressure. A boycott of the Games is not one of them. It is a meaningless, empty, feel-good gesture.