Joe Biden’s announcement that he will “punish” China for its crimes and genocide, his so-called “diplomatic boycott” of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, is a halfway measure that manages to combine yet another display of weakness by this president with an insult to members of the military and their families.
On December 6, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced the president had decided that his administration “will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games given the PRC’s ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity.” However, Psaki also said that the U.S. athletes would compete and that, “We will be behind them 100 percent as we cheer them on from home.”
A reporter then asked, “Why not pull American athletes from the Olympics?” Psaki replied that it would be unfair “to penalize athletes who have been training, preparing for this moment” and that “U.S. athletes — people who have been training, giving up a lot of blood, sweat, and tears preparing for these Olympics — should be able to go and compete.” Others have echoed Psaki’s theme that it would be unfair to penalize or “punish” athletes by not allowing them to compete.
The foreign policy picture painted by Psaki is that the Olympics are being hosted by a country the administration describes as “genocidal.” Genocide is a crime under international law pursuant to the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Without attempting to catalog all the other crimes perpetrated by China, it also is worth noting that China is engaged in what arguably are acts of war by attacking our satellites literally every day. Those attacks potentially represent first-strike dangers of the first order.
Yet Biden’s only direct response to the Chinese genocide and foreign aggression, other than talk, talk, is to punish China by depriving its diplomats of the pleasure of hobnobbing with the likes of Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Vice President Kamala Harris, or perhaps even – the nuclear option – Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. But at least Psaki also has made clear that Hunter Biden is free to attend with his Chinese business partners since he is not an employee of the administration.
In 1981, shortly after becoming president, Ronald Reagan famously fired the nation’s air traffic controllers who had gone on an illegal strike and refused his order to return to work. He did so in the face of great pressure to negotiate and compromise, due to the dire consequences of a potential nationwide shutdown of air traffic. What we learned after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Union was that Reagan’s action in the face of that pressure caused the Soviet leadership to realize they were now dealing with a serious man, not a naïve weakling.
Faced with a regime he says is committing genocide – a regime that indicates it is preparing for war from the Pacific to the exosphere – the president apparently has decided that the most appropriate step he can take is to watch the Olympics from the White House on TV.
With such a pusillanimous “sanction,” Biden essentially has told China, Russia – and the entire world – that he is not, as Charles De Gaulle would have put it, “un homme sérieux,” a man to be taken seriously. His message is that he is weak and can only bully women and elderly men at campaign rallies, but who quails before serious men.
More Is Required
More comprehensive sanctions would not be a panacea; more is required. The Biden administration has taken some actions against China. But as Helen Raleigh has pointed out, the policy is inconsistent to the point of incoherence. With respect to the genocide, as Raleigh has documented, that inconsistency is illustrated by the administration’s efforts to water down a bill regarding the slavery of the victims of the genocide, the Uyghurs.
The refrain that it is unfair to “punish” athletes, especially those Psaki says have sacrificed “blood, sweat and tears,” also is a monumental insult to military servicemen and women and their families.
There is no question that it is a great disappointment to any athlete who has trained hard for a major competition to not participate for any reason. Where the national interest is implicated, however, sacrifices may be required. This is as true of an elite Olympic athlete as it is for a 20-year-old squad leader or flight mechanic. This administration has deemed China to be guilty of the crime of genocide and that it therefore merits sanctions, not honor or respect, even if such sanctions require sacrifice.
Like these athletes, others who serve the nation also have been called upon to sacrifice when the national interest requires it. They have answered that call and have shed “blood, sweat and tears” as a result. The administration should not shrink from calling on privileged athletes to do the same if the national interest requires it.
Sacrifices of Servicemembers
Hundreds of U.S. service members sweated in the hot Afghan sun as they stood guard at the Kabul airport on August 26. Thirty-one of them were killed or wounded; ask those who survived about shedding blood. Ask their families about shedding tears.
The “punishment” of the Olympic athletes, many of whom will live long and wildly successful lives, pales in comparison to those of the thousands of service members who have been wounded or killed since 9/11, as well as their families who have been deprived of years – or lifetimes – with their loved ones. They have shed their blood, sweat, and tears because they were commanded to do so by four separate administrations. If they can make that sacrifice in the national interest, so can a few skiers, skaters, and other winter athletes.
To suggest that national policy must be shaped to avoid more modest sacrifices by these elite athletes is an insult to the service members and families who had no choice but to do their duty, even if it involved the ultimate sacrifice. As Raleigh wrote, the “[t]he Biden administration needs to show clarity, commitment, and coherence in its China policy.” These half-hearted sanctions fail at that and add to the risk of disastrous consequences.