An Olympic Victory for North Korea

Intelligence

U.S. 8th Army Photo

How many times have we heard over the last 16 years, “If we [do or don’t do something], the terrorists will have won.” For the most part, that’s a fairly good policy. Terrorists seek to disrupt our daily lives. They love to get inside our heads and make us doubt our choices,. They love it when we second-guess every little decision. If every decision in life required a risk analysis, we’d be paralyzed.

Given that “keep calm and carry on” has more or less been official government policy since 9/11, the conflicting stories regarding whether the U.S. Olympic Team will or will not participate in the XXIII Winter Olympic Games are unexpected. The 2018 games will take place from February 9 to February 25 in PyeongChang, Republic of Korea. The venue is roughly 50 miles south the Demilitarized Zone.

Given the tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, it’s understandable that some might hesitate to participate. But I never thought I’d see the day when the U.S. government would publicly acknowledge it was considering not participating due to security concerns. Especially since that decision would hand Kim Jong-un a major propaganda victory and further embolden his intransigence.

How did we get here?

Amid coalition air exercises between the U.S. and South Korea this week, the DPRK’s foreign ministry said it was a matter when, not if, war would erupt on the Korean peninsula. On Wednesday evening, Fox News Channel host Martha McCallum asked U.S. Ambassador the the U.N. Nikki Haley if, amid these heightened tensions, the U.S. delegation would be attending the games. This should have been a slam-dunk question.

The only acceptable answer is, “of course our athletes are going to PyeongChang. They’ve been preparing their entire lives for this moment, and we will not let the threats of a paranoid madman deprive our athletes of the opportunity to prove themselves on the world’s biggest athletic stage.” But no. Haley did not say that.

“I think it depends on what’s going on at the time in the country,” Haley told McCallum. “We have to watch this closely, and it’s changing by the day.” A spokesperson for the U.S. mission later simply said, “The United States looks forward to participating in the Winter Olympics in the Republic of Korea next year. As always, the protection of American citizens overseas is our most important priority. We remain closely engaged with the Koreans and other partner nations to secure the venues as we do every Olympics.”

Say what?

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had the opportunity to put the issue to rest on Thursday, but she, too, decided to punt.

CBS White House Correspondent Major Garrett asked Sanders if U.S. participation was indeed an “open question.” While Sanders disputed Garrett’s description of Haley’s comments, she nonetheless left the door open. “No official decision has been made on that,” Sanders said. “The goal is to do so, but that is a decision that will be made closer to the time.”

We’ve discussed this at length here, but let’s review. For all his bluster, Kim Jong-un has one goal: stay in power. Most of the world is already lined up against him. He has absolutely no motivation to turn the Olympic Games into an international security incident. The Black September Organization’s kidnapping and murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics set the Palestinian cause back by a decade or more. Kim knows he has nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by starting trouble in PyeongChang.

Doing so would be as disastrous for him as using one of his nukes. It would give the hawks in the Trump administration the casus belli that Kim already believes they want.

The U.S. Olympic Committee is not a government organization. I, for one, hope they tell the government to butt out. Let the games begin.

Tom McCuin is a strategic communication consultant and retired Army Reserve Civil Affairs and Public Affairs officer whose career includes serving with the Malaysian Battle Group in Bosnia, two tours in Afghanistan, and three years in the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs in the Pentagon. When he’s not devouring political news, he enjoys sailboat racing and umpiring Little League games (except the ones his son plays in) in Alexandria, Va. Follow him on Twitter at @tommccuin

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