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Jewish World Review
May 7, 2008
/ 2 Iyar 5768
Bush wouldn't punish China with his non-attendance
When Greece hosted the Olympic Games in 2004, President Bush sent his father to Athens to lead the American delegation at the opening ceremonies. When Australia hosted the games in 2000, President Clinton sent Chelsea to Sydney to represent the First Family.
It's odd, then, that President Bush has made such a fuss about his intention to personally attend the Summer Olympics in China, including the opening ceremonies. If he does so, according to Olympic historian David Wallechinsky, Bush will become the first American president ever to attend the opening ceremonies of Olympics held outside the United States.
Bush would like to portray his absence from what he calls a "sporting event" as exceptional. In fact, precisely the opposite is true. Other than Bush, Latvian President Valdis Zatlers and Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni are the only world leaders thus far to have declared their plans to be present in Beijing, despite the best efforts of the Chinese government to make the opening ceremonies a sort of diplomatic debutante's ball.
Any world leader who suggests he is making a bold political statement by not going to Beijing is prevaricating. A boycott, this isn't. You boycott something that you might normally consider attending. Remaining absent from the opening ceremonies is the equivalent of a truant pledging not to play hooky on a school holiday.
For the same reason, President Bush's stubborn insistence on going to Beijing and his disingenuous effort to make his absence rather than his attendance the issue are exceptionally blockheaded. They are also a stunning betrayal of a basic humanitarian pledge.
In the fall of 2001, a national security aide wrote a memo for Bush about the Clinton administration's reluctance to take steps that would have halted the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. The report detailed how American inaction allowed the slaughter of up to one million people to proceed. In the margins of the memo, Bush wrote, "Not on my watch."
The communist leaders of China deserve the scorn of the international community for so many policies: their cultural and ethnic cleansing of Tibet; their bullying of Taiwan and constant militaristic threats; their support for the military junta in Burma; the forced abortion and involuntary sterilization, political and religious oppression and every other kind of violation of basic human rights of their own citizens.
But nowhere in recent years has Beijing's cynical and immoral policies had more lethal consequences than in the Darfur region of Sudan. Companies owned or controlled by the Chinese government are the biggest players in Sudan's oil industry. Oil revenues fund the Sudanese government's purchase of military hardware for attacks on the civilian population of Darfur.
Companies owned or controlled by the Chinese government provide the overwhelming majority of small arms used by the Sudanese military and supplied to the Janjaweed militias doing the killing in Darfur. During five years of mass atrocities of the rape of women and young girls, of children thrown into bonfires as the death toll has risen to as many as 400,000 and 2.5 million people have fled their homes, the Chinese government has been the principal patron of Sudan at the United Nations, wielding its veto power on the Security Council as a bludgeon to beat down any meaningful effort to bring international pressure to bear on the genocidal regime of President Omar al-Bashir.
The International Olympic Committee's selection of Beijing to host the 2008 Summer Games has always been understood as a double-edged sword. Yes, the communist government will use the games, especially the opening ceremonies, as a nationalistic showcase of power and prestige. But Beijing's desire for that showcase to run smoothly and successfully also gives the international community unique diplomatic leverage.
By his obstinacy, Bush has forfeited that leverage. At the very least, his presence should be conditioned upon Beijing's behavior.
Going to China and contributing to the communist spectacle without any cooperation on Darfur or amelioration in other troubling areas? No, Mr. President. Not on your watch.
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JWR contributor Jonathan Gurwitz, a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News, is a co-founder and twice served as Director General of the Future Leaders of the Alliance program at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. In 1986 he was placed on the Foreign Service Register of the U.S. State Department.
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