Myanmar: It is Time to Play the Olympics Card.
The moral authority of the United States has been generally absent from the world stage during the Bush Administration's tenure, but it is not too late for the Administration to make one last effort to redeem itself.
The time has come for the United States to play the only card it has in its deck of playing cards in its relations with the People's Republic of China. The United States must seriously threaten to boycott the 2008 Summer Olympics unless China (and Russia) put creditable pressure on the Generals to restore the role of the Buddhist monks in Myanmar society and release their leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
We need to play the Olympic card because the situation in Myanmar verges on genocide. The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defined genocide as "acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical, racial, or religious group...." What this means in the Myanmar context is that the Myanmar Generals have deliberately set out destroy Buddhism as an institution in Myanmar by killing and incarcerating Buddhist monks not for what they did, which was to organize and participate in mass pro-democracy demonstrations, but because of who they are, a religious force for change that advocates dialogue and reconciliation based on the benign teachings of the Buddha.
Samantha Power tells us in her Pulitzer Prize winning study of genocide, The Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, that Raphael Lemkin, the Holocaust survivor who was the father of the 1948 Convention on Genocide, once wrote that "The Treaty is like a ship carrying survivors, it cannot be permitted to sink." Lemkin's words cry out to the United States with a plea for the last remaining superpower not to look away as wisps of genocide float through the blood stained Pagodas and monasteries in Myanmar, now empty of monks.
China is the one country which the Generals might heed. However China, like Russia and India, has put economic self-interest ahead of moral considerations and currently has no incentive to change its view.
The People's Republic is seemingly impervious to outside influence except for one chink in its armor, the 2008 Summer Olympics. China hopes to obliterate memories Tiananmen Square by dazzling the world with a brilliant coming out party next summer. Only the United States has the stature to spoil the party.
How would Olympic card be played? Cleverly, not unlike a good poker player plays a hand that holds an Ace in the hole. While China has consistently vetoed Security Council resolutions that urge an improved record of human rights in Myanmar, this could change if China found itself starring at the possibility of a tarnished 2008 Olympics. To start the United States would inform China that "nothing is off the table" regarding our response to the situation in Myanmar. If this does not adequately focus China's attention, the United States should raise the ante by advocating that spectators planning to attend the Olympics make a statement in support of the monks by canceling reservations and staying put. Finally, the American athletes themselves would be asked to support freedom and democracy in Myanmar by making the heartbreaking but stunning sacrifice of withdrawing from the Olympics.
It is not often that morality is afforded an opportunity to trump economic self-interest, but the United States is now presented with the unique chance to stand up for freedom, where others fear to tread. History will judge such a stand as a shining moment in our history, one that will help rescue American prestige in the eyes of the world for years to come.
Do we dare?
Peter F. Spalding is a retired member of the senior Foreign Service and is completing a book on how to achieve an ethical foreign policy. He can be reached at PFS202@AOL.COM