- Mark Wilson/Getty Images
- It shouldn’t be hard, as the White House made it, to say the US will participate in the Winter Olympics.
- It’s important that the US participate as a show of solidarity with the host country, South Korea.
- Eventually, the White House found a way to say we are going.
Is it really that hard to say the US will participate in the Winter Olympics?
I can’t figure out whether UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders created a controversy about US participation in the 2018 Olympics in South Korea on purpose or by accident. But they shouldn’t have done it.*
On Tuesday, Haley called US participation in the Olympics an “open question.” But the rest of her answer to Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum made it sound like she expected the US to go as usual, while taking security precautions.
It’s always theoretically possible that some future event would cause the US to pull out of an Olympic games. Maybe Haley’s “open question” comment was just an off-the-cuff way of acknowledging the unknown of the future, not a statement she intended to raise the prospect that the US was seriously questioning whether to go to PyeongChang.
But then on Thursday, Sanders, who should have realized that she might be asked about Haley’s comments, said “no official decision” had been made about US participation. And then, after her press briefing, she tweeted to clarify that the US “looks forward to participating in the Winter Olympics in South Korea.”
Okay, good, so we’re going.
This isn’t really the president’s decision anyway. The US Olympic Committee is an independent body, and it decides whether to participate in the Olympics. In 1980, it was the USOC that implemented the Olympic boycott for which President Jimmy Carter called.
But obviously, the Trump administration could have caused a lot of trouble for the US team, and for our relationship with South Korea, by letting this idea sit out there that it’s too unsafe to go there for the Olympics.
We owe it to our South Korean allies to participate unreservedly in PyeongChang. Any North Korean military threats that would face American athletes and tourists at the Olympics are faced on a daily basis by the South Korean people, not to mention by tens of thousands of American troops stationed in South Korea. We should stand in solidarity with them.
The Olympics are an important event for South Korean national pride. These are the first Winter Olympics in Asia outside Japan, ever. As with the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, these games are a reflection of South Korea’s rise as a high-income, democratic country with long and deep ties to the US. It would be a real shame to miss that, or even to cast doubt on the idea that we would participate.
And my guess is, the Trump Administration never made a conscious decision to cast such doubt. Still, would it have been that hard for these officials to just say “yes” when asked whether we were going to go?
President Trump has created all sorts of ambiguity about when and how the US will stand by its allies. This was an easy opportunity to show our solidarity, and his team still didn’t manage to get it quite right.
* I am a paid contributor to MSNBC and NBC News, so I should note that NBC holds the US broadcast rights to the Olympics. Of course, NBC exercises no editorial oversight of my writing for Business Insider.