What? Why the hell not? The regime’s been bonkers and dangerous for decades and yet they usually compete in international events like the Olympics and the World Cup. Sports diplomacy is one way to keep them kinda sorta tethered to the rest of the world and motivated not to get too far out of line.
The only thing dumber than a meaningless American boycott of the Olympics would be handing foreign leaders the power to decide whether that boycott happens.
On the other hand, usually when Grahamnesty’s in “let the eagle soar!” mode he’s talking about bombing someone. Consider this progress.
Allowing Kim Jong Un’s North Korea to participate in #WinterOlympics would give legitimacy to the most illegitimate regime on the planet.
I’m confident South Korea will reject this absurd overture and fully believe that if North Korea goes to the Winter Olympics, we do not.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) January 1, 2018
Lay aside the injustice of denying U.S. athletes a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in the name of an ineffective symbolic gesture. Focus instead on the terrible dilemma this would present to South Korea. We’d be forcing them to choose between their strongest ally and a rare opening for diplomacy with the nut next door. Depending on what they did, either a rift would open up between Seoul and Washington or Kim would conclude that his enemies are no longer interested in dialogue even when he initiates it, a dangerous development with an unstable nuclear power.
Now imagine that South Korea decides to ignore the American threat and invite North Korea to the Games in a show of goodwill, hoping it’ll lead to bigger things. (It would reduce the chances of North Korean aggression during the Games, if nothing else.) How many U.S. allies would follow our lead in pulling their teams out of the Olympics? Probably none, right? In which case, not only would Kim have won a test of strength with the U.S. for South Korean favor, it would have demonstrated how weak American leadership is abroad by the lack of a solidarity boycott among U.S. allies and client states. It’d be a disaster. The one and only reason to do it is if we had some reason to believe that keeping the NorKs out of the Games would so wound Kim’s pride that he’d not only come back to the bargaining table instead of inching further away but would be willing to make deeper concessions on nukes than he otherwise would have. To believe that, you need to believe that somehow endless rounds of international sanctions haven’t managed to break his resistance but his country being deprived of the chance to compete in the luge in Pyeongchang might.
The worst part? Graham’s response may have been just the sort of reaction Kim was hoping for among Americans when he extended his Olympic olive branch to the South yesterday.
The strained relationship between the allies has been playing out for months, as Mr. Moon, a liberal, argued for economic and diplomatic openings with the North, even as Mr. Trump has worked hard to squeeze the North with increasingly punishing sanctions. Mr. Moon also angered Mr. Trump and his aides in recent months by suggesting he holds what he called a veto over any American pre-emptive military action against the North’s nuclear program.
Until now Mr. Kim has largely ignored Mr. Moon, whom the North Korean media has portrayed as a spineless lackey of the United States. But the dramatic shift in tone and policy, toward bilateral talks between the two Koreas, suggests that Mr. Kim sees an opportunity to develop and accentuate the split between Mr. Moon and Mr. Trump, betting that the United States will be unable to mount greater pressure on the North if it does not have South Korean acquiescence.
Right on cue, Lindsey Graham turns around and urges an Olympic snub of South Korea by the United States. Trump, thankfully, seems to be more cautious:
Sanctions and “other” pressures are beginning to have a big impact on North Korea. Soldiers are dangerously fleeing to South Korea. Rocket man now wants to talk to South Korea for first time. Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not – we will see!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2018
It was less than three weeks ago that Mattis said the U.S. is still committed to diplomacy with North Korea. Kim’s Olympic overture to the South is a crack of daylight in that regard. If we’ve reached the point where our athletes won’t even take the field at an event where their athletes are present, that would seem to send the message that diplomacy is over. Is that the new policy? It’s the eternal policy in GrahamWorld, I realize. But not in TrumpWorld. Not yet.
Besides, if you want to put pressure on North Korea, you’re better off thinking of ways to put pressure on China. According to a secret document obtained by the Free Beacon, China is supposedly supplying the North with missiles and guarantees that Kim’s nuclear program will be protected in return for a freeze on new testing. They’re also quietly shipping oil to the North in violation of UN sanctions, something that drew Trump’s attention last week since it’s undermining a key point of international economic pressure. Exit question: How’s he going to react when he finds out that his would-be peace partners in Russia are doing the same thing?