Earlier this week we reviewed the news out of the State Department saying that the United States was consulting with its allies about the possibility of boycotting the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing because of their disastrous record on human rights and the ongoing genocide, among other offenses. At the time, I noted that Joe Biden was probably taking the best approach possible given all of the circumstances and the limited options available. I suppose that will teach me to shower praise on the Biden administratIon too quickly. Yesterday, the very same State Department turned around and basically said, ‘boycott? Who said anything about a boycott? We’re not boycotting anyone.’ (Politico)
The State Department denied Tuesday that it was consulting with allies about a joint boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics amid growing calls for the U.S. to back out of the event due to human rights violations in China.
“Our position on the 2022 Olympics has not changed. We have not discussed and are not discussing any joint boycott with allies and partners,” a State Department official said.
There was confusion earlier Tuesday after a briefing from State Department spokesperson Ned Price, causing the need for a clarification.
Okay, let’s see if we can’t sort this out. As you’ll see, Politico is describing this as a “clarification” from the state department following some “confusion” on Tuesday. But that’s not a clarification. It’s a complete about-face.
Politico was the source I cited on Tuesday and they have posted this new information as an update to the original article, basically sending the original quotes down the memory hole. Thankfully, I still had the archived version of the original piece. Ned Price is the State Department spokesperson who provided the quotes. He said that a boycott of the games “is certainly something that we wish to discuss” with partners and allies. He went on to stress the importance of working with other countries “so that any step the U.S. takes would have more influence on Beijing.”
That was not in the least bit ambiguous. This updated quote is provided by “a State Department official” without providing a name. There are really only two, or at most three possibilities as to what happened. One is that Politico completely botched the story and now they’re covering their tracks. But that seems extremely unlikely. They named the individual giving the briefing and directly quoted him multiple times. That would be beyond some simple error or misunderstanding. It would be journalistic malpractice to attribute a word-for-word quote to a federal official if he hadn’t said it.
The second and more likely scenario is that Ned Price came out and briefed the press on the potential Olympic boycott situation, offering the State Department’s current policy as he understood it. And then somebody, either from the White House or the Secretary of State’s office saw the quote showing up in the media and hit the panic button. I would shy away from the idea that it was Antony Blinken who reeled back the announcement because that would mean that Price went out to address the media without even checking with his boss. That just seems unlikely, but if that’s the case he’s probably too incompetent to hold that job.
So if it wasn’t Blinken, then the reversal order almost certainly came from the White House. What do we take away from that scenario? We’re not talking about some trivial matter here. In terms of the United States’ diplomatic and foreign policy stance, talking about boycotting something as big as the Olympic games when they are being hosted by one of our largest global adversaries is, as the President might put it, a Big Effing Deal. Is it possible that nobody in Biden’s circle ever bothered getting around to informing the Secretary of State what the plan was? It’s either that or Blinken made the call on his own without asking the boss. That also seems unlikely unless Blinken is the one that’s clueless.
In the interest of being charitable, I’ll offer up a third possible scenario. Somebody, either from State or the White House, actually has been laying the groundwork to consult with our allies and get a sense as to whether or not they might consider a boycott. That’s the sort of thing you would clearly like to keep under the covers until the plan started coming together. If Price was either involved or apprised of that information but not told that it was highly sensitive, he may have just assumed it was okay to discuss. When the story blew up, someone else may have had a panic attack because they didn’t want the Chinese to know about it until the plan was ripening. But even if that’s the case, somebody dropped the ball by not ensuring that everyone involved was aware that this needed to be kept “on the down-low” (as the kids like to say these days).
None of these scenarios paint the Biden administration in a good light. Whether it’s incompetence or a communications breakdown, they need to be running a tighter ship up there.