Even last week, I thought about urging President Bush not to attend the Beijing Olympics. My logic was simple: Did FDR show up in Berlin as Der Fuhrer's guest of honor? Was Jimmy Carter ever going to grace Moscow with his presence even if he hadn't ordered its boycott? Why would Bush want to have anything to do with a regime that has so much blood of innocents on its hands?
But after viewing the events in Tibet the last couple of weeks, I changed my mind. At the crossroads of history, the best thing for America to do, vis-a-vis China, is to engage her, instead of further enraging her.
I'm hardly the appeasement type. Usually, I advocate fighting to the death. But here is a strategic opportunity for real reform to take place in China. This kind of opportunity doesn't come often, and it must not be missed.
To be sure, the Beijing regime is treating the Summer Games as China's coming out party. Totalitarian outfits love using the Olympics as a showcase. Berlin 1936, with Leni Riefenstahl working the cameras, will never be topped as the finest hour for the art of propaganda. Though Moscow 1980 and Sarajevo 1984 tried in vain.
The leadership in Zhongnanhai has dusted off Hitler and Goebbels' playbook and choreographed accordingly. Beijing was to be transformed from the massively polluted and congested grime into the beacon for Chinese-style socialism. And the rest of China, as far as anywhere the visitors can see, was to be made into a 21st century workers' paradise, with a capitalist twist.
There's just one problem on borrowing the Nazi script -- this ain't 1936. News get out, fast, and therefore you just can't control everything, especially information.
Try as it might, the Beijing government is hardly omnipotent even within its own borders, thanks to rapid global communication. The skirmishes in Lhasa, no matter whose side you believe, proves this point. And trust me, that's only the beginning. Between now and the opening ceremonies in August, there will be more bloodshed.
The communists are in a pickle here. Every group with a grievance will use this opportunity to be seen or heard. And there are plenty of them in China. If the regime employs a high-handed crackdown, it risks a possible international boycott and a massive loss of face. If it goes for a half-hearted slapdown, as it apparently did in Tibet, then it will only encourage more dissonance.
For this reason, it actually makes sense to fully engage China. President Bush no doubt will be keeping constant communication with China's Hu Jintao during the period leading up to the event. There's plenty to talk about: Human rights, Tibet, North Korea and of course, Taiwan. Luckily for Hu, thanks to Taiwan's voters, his most thorny problem is at the moment the least of his concerns.
Bush needs to constantly remind Hu the commitments that China has made in order to win the bid for the Olympics. Sure, those commies are not really into keeping their word, but under a harsh international spotlight, they'd at least make a show of it. Liberty must always be topic No. 1, even if it annoys the hell out of Hu.
As good faith, Bush should fulfill his pledged appearance at the Games -- even if Sarkozy and other European leaders bail at the last minute. The presence of a sitting American president will be an enormous boost to the Chinese leadership. But instead of allowing Hu and Co. to use this as a propaganda tool, Bush instead should be there as part enforcer, part shrink, counseling temperance over reprisal when and if more stuff hits the fan during the Games.
Will his mere presence help usher in an era of political reform in China? That's doubtful. But by being there, Bush will do more good than harm. China's government has invested so much in staging the Olympics, it's not willing to let it fall to pieces by being trigger happy, especially with the leader of the world's only uber-power on site as a distinguished guest.
That's why this is one heck of an opportunity. By being in Beijing, Bush isn't sticking up for the communist leadership, he will be serving the cause of liberty -- for the billions of Chinese, for whom it's long overdue.