Thursday, July 18, 2013 at 5:11 AM

Boycott Olympics Over Snowden? Don’t Be Stupid!

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

President Obama should consider boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia if the Cold War-era foe gives asylum to Edward Snowden, Sen. Lindsey Graham told The Hill on Tuesday.

‘I would. I would just send the Russians the most unequivocal signal I could send them,’ he said.

(The Hill, July 16, 2013)

The problem with America (and the world) today is that nobody in government can keep a secret. The members of the Navy’s Seal Team 6, who purportedly took blood oaths to keep secret their identities and activities, couldn’t wait to betray both, and each other, after taking out Osama bin Laden.

And exercising self-restraint in this Twitter age is tantamount to self-asphyxiation (and not of the autoerotic kind). Why else would erstwhile respectable men – like former GE Chairman Jack Welch – be tweeting things for the world to read that they would never even let slip in polite company?

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that Eric Snowden demonstrated this inability to keep secrets in spades by revealing almost all of America’s national security secrets. And Senator Graham is now demonstrating this inability to exercise self-restraint by suggesting nothing less than a “nuclear option” to settle a relatively petty standoff between America and Russia over Snowden.

imagesNo doubt you’re aware that Snowden has been “trapped” in the transit area of the Moscow airport ever since Chinese authorities prevailed upon him on June 23 to get the hell out of Hong Kong. According to no less a person than Russian President Vladimir Putin, he is trapped because the United States has threatened unbearable reprisals against any country that dares to grant him asylum.

In fact, the United States showed just how deadly serious its threats are when it forced a plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales home from Russia on July 3 to land in Austria based solely on suspicion that Snowden was on board. He was not.

images-1Nevertheless, the presidents of Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia have all seized this opportunity to reassert their countries’ collective status as America’s perennial pain in the ass by granting Snowden asylum. Putin himself has signaled his willingness to grant Snowden asylum; provided that:

If you want to stay, please, but you have to stop your political activities. We have a certain relationship with the U.S., and we don’t want you with your political activities damaging our relationship with the U.S.

(New York Times, July 15, 2013)

The problem of course is that, given where Snowden is and how impossible it is now for him to control the dribble of damaging political disclosures he set in motion, any leader offering to grant him asylum is rather like the frog offering to carry the scorpion across the stream if the scorpion promises not to sting it….

Which brings me back to Graham and the standoff between America and Russia. Trust me folks, the reason this senator is just like another twit tweeting something that would’ve been better left unsaid (or said only in private) is that Putin does not have, and never had, any intention of granting Snowden (permanent) political asylum. Not least because, far from regarding Snowden as the hero he fancies himself, I suspect Putin sees him as a traitorous rat.

1373561202000-AFP-521279297-1307111248_4_3After all, Putin is a former KGB spy who prides loyalty to country above all else. And he remains so sensitive/paranoid about keeping state secrets that, according to a report in the July 11, 2013 edition of Izvestia, he ordered the KGB successor agency, the FSB, to return to the Soviet days of transcribing top secrets via typewriter and storing them as paper documents in old-fashioned filing cabinets.

Duly spooked, Putin is probably thinking, ‘lets see those NSA computer geeks try getting inside those cabinets – instead of sitting on their butts in the United States and surveilling every computer screen and eavesdropping on every phone call in the world.’

So, besides being perceived as a traitor to his country, Snowden personifies this kind of geeky spycraft for which Putin cannot disguise his contempt. And as much as he is undoubtedly reveling in the humiliation Snowden has caused Obama, Putin fully appreciates what special punishment he’d want to mete out to any Russian spy who does to him and Russia what Snowden has done to Obama and the United States.

Not to mention the resentment Putin must be harboring over Snowden ending up in Russia only after his preferred Chinese spymasters extracted all they wanted out of and from him. But who can blame this self-important smart ass for wanting to be exiled in Westernized Hong Kong instead of Sovietized Moscow…?

Putin clearly has no use for Snowden. But, as a perfectly understandable matter of form, he must avoid any appearance of caving in to American demands to return him immediately. In which case, if threatening an Olympic boycott were even a remotely sensible thing to do, surely it would have been more effective to have Obama do so on a private line for Putin’s ears only, instead of having some two-bit senator do so in this very public and jingoistic fashion.

images-2In any event, Putin will let this standoff play out pursuant to Russia’s (political) interests. This might include granting Snowden temporary asylum to bring him in from the cold (of the no-man’s land in the Moscow airport) and under Russia’s/Putin’s direct jurisdiction. It might even include negotiating a prisoner swap. But there seems little doubt that Putin will eventually hand Snowden over to his “American partner” on a silver platter.

And I assure you, he has every intention of doing so well ahead of the Opening Ceremony for his Olympic Games. What’s more, he has probably already indicated as much to Obama.

Bilateral relations, in my opinion, are much more important than the squabbles around the activities of the security services.

(New York Times July 17, 2013)

nsa-surveillance-politicsAll of which is why Graham’s chest-thumping threat about boycotting is not only ignorant and misguided; it’s mischievous and self-defeating.

But, above all, the last thing either Putin or Obama wants is to even raise the specter of another tit-for-tat boycott of Olympic Games: Putin – because this would render his showcase games utterly meaningless and relatively worthless without American participation, especially because the UK and other European countries would likely join in such a boycott; and Obama – because this would only further undermine his hope-and-change motto by crushing the hopes and aspirations of American athletes, and give credence to the Republican narrative about his presidency being little more than a retread of the failed, malaise-inducing presidency of Jimmy Carter.

Carter, you recall, triggered the first and only tit-for-tat boycotts in Olympic history when he ordered a U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, ironically, to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Russians/Soviets retaliated, purely as a matter of geopolitical and ideological principle, with a boycott of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Now, having said all that, there is one major x-factor, which has been bedeviling and vexing Western leaders for years:

Putin is trying to reclaim Russia’s (superpower) sphere of influence in the world by, among other things, warning Russia’s former satellite states against joining NATO (even though all of them — led by Poland — seem determined to defy him); trying to affect the make-up of East European governments (as he did, to no avail, in Georgia and Ukraine); and forming bilateral relationships with rogue states to counter America’s influence (like selling advanced military equipment to North Korea, Syria, Libya, Cuba and Venezuela).

(“Putin, a Soul Mate Scorned,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 3, 2005)

In fact, I am all too mindful that Putin is on record lamenting the disintegration of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”—notwithstanding two world wars, the Holocaust, or even Stalin’s purging of over 20 million of his fellow Russians. And it may be that he is so pathologically, maniacally and diabolically determined to put his humpty dumpty back together again that he would seize any opportunity to hinder, humble, or humiliate America – no matter how self-defeating – just to make it feel like a fait accompli.

So, despite his mind telling him to continue his efforts to “reset” U.S.-Russia relations for twenty-first century cooperation, which would certainly include turning over Snowden just as the Obama Administration has turned over Russian fugitives, his heart might be longing too much for the halcyon days of twentieth century Cold War.

UnknownBut, if Putin’s (Cold War) heart prevails, American Olympians (who wish) could kill two birds with one stone by prominently displaying the gay-pride rainbow flag on their clothing whenever possible during the Games. This would enable them, on the one hand, to give Putin a retaliatory poke in the eye for granting Snowden asylum and, on the other, to express solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Russians who are being subjected to new anti-gay laws.

I especially urge athletes (from every country that supports gay civil rights) who take the medal podium during these Games to participate. They can do so by making a show of taking a small gay-pride flag out of their pockets, after the playing of the winner’s national anthem, and waving it proudly for the world (and Putin’s homophobic Russia) to see.

In other words, dare Czar Putin to have them all arrested for spreading “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors.” And dare the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to sanction them all for violating its rule against “proactive political or political demonstration.” I assure you, as far as Olympics protests go, this will emulate the famous Black-power salute two Black-American athletes made during the Mexico Games in 1968 to protest racial discrimination in the United States.

Accordingly, I call upon gay activists in every country participating in these Winter Games to ensure that every athlete on their national team has one or more of these small flags to participate in this silent but poignant protest.

I appreciate of course that this won’t do for gay activists who are calling for an outright boycott, proselytizing fears that these laws might ensnare gay athletes from other countries too. But such fears are patently unwarranted, and insisting on a boycott will do nothing but stigmatize LGBT people as the cause for jeopardizing the Olympic dreams of all athletes, LGBT ones too. Far better to let the IOC prevail upon Russia to repeal these anti-gay laws.

But if boycotting is a must, I’m all for a global boycott against Russian products like Stolichnaya vodka, which some gay activists are championing. Such targeted boycotts against corporate interests might also prove far more effective – just as they did in forcing revolutionary change in South Africa’s Apartheid (anti-Black) laws.

Related commentaries:
I spy, you spy, we all spy

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