Criticism continues to mount over President Bush’s decision, announced last Thursday, to attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. John McCain and Barack Obama said they would hold off making the commitment to go, and others said outright that he should not appear at the event. “I think that a president who has said we are conducting warfare in different parts of the world in order to promote democracy and human rights loses credibility when he announces that he is going to attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in a country that is the world’s worst human rights abuser,” said Representative Dana Rohrabacher, the plain-speaking California Republican. Radio talk show host Joe Madison was even more direct: “This is the equivalent of a president going to Nazi Germany in 1936. This is absolutely wrong.”
Yet Dubya, believing he is positively right, is determined to show up in the Chinese capital on August 8. “He believes he’s going to China to support first and foremost our athletes,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. “He sees this as a sporting competition.”
Really? As rationalizations go, this one is particularly weak. As the president’s staff may know, there will be no competitive events held during the opening ceremony. Moreover, there won’t be that many American athletes there anyway. Most of them will be staying away from China until the last possible moment to minimize exposure to the capital city’s chemical-laden, particle-heavy atmosphere. If his goal is to cheer America’s finest competitors on August 8, he should instead go to their training camp in nearby Japan.
It would have been better if Ms. Perino had told the truth and said “the president is going to Beijing to pay homage to China’s autocrats even though his presence will be seen as support for their efforts to legitimize their abhorrent rule.” These words, although lacking in diplomatic nicety, at least would have had the advantage of not being a transparent fabrication. Just about everyone knows that the Chinese are using the opening ceremony as a loyalty test for foreign presidents and prime ministers. By showing up, President Bush, who did not go to Athens in 2004 or Turin in 2006, will be performing the modern version of the kowtow to the Chinese supremos. The once-inspiring leader who said he would make no compromises in defending freedom will be traveling halfway around the globe to honor unrepentant dictators. President Bush, in short, will undermine all that he stands for as he attends a three-and-a-half-hour spectacle glorifying Chinese communism.