With due respect to Jazz, not only do I not understand the argument against competing, I don’t know why we’re talking about it. If the U.S. is planning an attack on North Korea before the games begin in February, obviously we’re not going to telegraph it by suddenly announcing that our athletes are pulling out of the event. If North Korea is planning an attack on the South, well, that was always a risk in awarding the games to Pyeongchang. Assuming they really are the rational actor that so many foreign-policy wise men believe them to be (big assumption!), they’re not going to start a war that’ll end in their annihilation just to spoil South Korea’s party.
There’s more at stake than U.S. athletes bowing out too. If the U.S. declared that the situation was too dangerous for its own athletes to attend, it’d likely set off a chain reaction in which other countries began to pull out too, leading to the games’ collapse. The U.S. announcement would be read as a sign that war is imminent, which would spook foreign nations into staying away and might even spook Kim Jong Un into taking what he believes to be “preemptive” action. Even the best-case scenario, in which other countries ignore the U.S. decision and the games go on, would humiliate America by demonstrating boldness where we had showed timidity.
At the very least, the U.S. pulling out would be read as a vote of no confidence in South Korea’s ability to protect Olympians. And it would raise an obvious question of why, when thousands of U.S. servicemen accept the danger of being stationed in South Korea, an Olympian who’s willing to compete shouldn’t be allowed to accept that risk for two weeks if he or she is willing. A full national boycott of the games only makes sense if war is already raging in the host city or, in very extraordinary circumstances, for political reasons. Neither is true in South Korea. So again, why are we talking about it? Has anyone in the administration even mentioned it, apart from Nikki Haley answering a question with bureaucratic caution because she had no information on the subject either way?
Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about this at today’s briefing and also answered cautiously, as you’ll see below, although she’s since tweeted out that it’s full speed ahead for the Olympics:
UPDATE: The U.S. looks forward to participating in the Winter Olympics in South Korea. The protection of Americans is our top priority and we are engaged with the South Koreans and other partner nations to secure the venues.
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) December 7, 2017
In fact, as a matter of law, the final decision on whether to compete rests with the USOC, a private entity, not the federal government. For the feds to stop them, presumably they’d have to bar all U.S. travel to South Korea. Which would be a much bigger deal than luge contests and hockey games.
The real risk during the games, I think, is Kim seizing the opportunity for a new missile test (or nuclear test?) and something going badly awry to cause damage to a neighbor. If a North Korean ICBM aimed at the Pacific accidentally crashes into Japan, the games may come to a sudden end. But a deliberate attack by the North, knowing the consequences? Not impossible, but certainly not rational.
JUST IN: Press Sec. Sarah Sanders: “No official decision has been made” on US participation in the Winter Olympics pic.twitter.com/5ZCvIRhLmr
— NBC News (@NBCNews) December 7, 2017