Sunday, February 11, 2018
Lost in PyeongChang
It's clear that Kim Yo-Jong has won the diplomatic battle in PyeongChang, making Mike Pence look like a relic of the Cold War, as he refused to even cast a gaze at her during the Opening Ceremony as she sat right behind him. It's quite a coming out party for the sister of Kim Jong-Un, as she appears to have charmed everyone with her appearance at the Olympic Games, if not our dour Vice-President.
Trump really missed an opportunity not sending Ivanka to the Games. She would have more nimbly walked the political tightrope than the stick-in-the-mud representing his government at the Games. Not only was Pence outclassed by Kim's sister, but he also tried to shrug off the snub he got from gay Olympian Adam Rippon by saying he never extended an invitation to meet the figure skater despite evidence to the contrary. Ivanka would have found a way to have smoothed things over, not Mike, who remained surly to the end and is now flying back to Washington, claiming South Korea and the US are more united than ever against North Korea.
It sure doesn't look that way, Mike. The South Korean President Moon Jae-In has bent over backward to accommodate the North Korean delegation, clearly trying to make the most of the opportunity to encourage peace between the two countries as the whole world watches. For North Korea this is a huge diplomatic coup. A summit between the two nations is now being arranged, making the US look like the aggressor nation.
Why the United States didn't seize on this opportunity is beyond me. All the Trump White House had to do was play along. Even Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe talked to North Korean ceremonial leaders at the Games. The Trump administration could easily claim their tough talk led to this rapprochement, but instead all Pence could babble about was imposing tougher sanctions while shunning the North Korean delegation.
It is downright embarrassing and further erodes any confidence Asian leaders have in the US to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula. It doesn't matter that every leader in the region has said that Kim Jong-Un doesn't respond to sanctions, but rather sees them as a red badge of courage. Jimmy Carter recognized this a long time ago, when he tried to encourage peace talks with North Korea. He has offered his services once again to try to bridge the divide, but of course the Trump administration has no interest in Carter's shuttle diplomacy. It would rather continue its policy of "fire and fury," which at this point appears to signify nothing.
Mostly what South Korea's president wants is a successful Olympic Games. He didn't want the threat of a nuclear war hanging over Pyeongchang the way confrontation loomed over the Sochi Games with all the unrest in Ukraine four years ago. Moon Jae-In went out of his way to make the feeling between the two nations as amicable as possible, even if many South Koreans are "side-eyeing" North Korea's "charm offensive," personified by an all-female cheering squad on hand to encourage the country's 22 Olympic athletes. The North Korean women's hockey team was crushed by Switzerland, but the most important thing was that they were part of the Games.
It also helps to brush over the rather odd decision by the IOC to allow so many Russian athletes to compete under the Olympic flag after banning Russia from the Games for the massive doping scandal at the Sochi Games. Supposedly, these are younger athletes who are getting their first Olympic exposure, but in watching the luge finals this isn't true. The top "OAR" luge finalist, Roman Repilov, is a former European champ, so it seems Russia managed to smuggle some of its top athletes into the Games. But, it wasn't Repilov's day. He finished out of the medals, overshadowed by the American Chris Madzer who took home a historic silver in the event.
There is no way to avoid the politics that surround the Olympic Games but it is refreshing to see this spirit of reconciliation at a time the world comes together to enjoy a fortnight of highly competitive games. It's just too bad Mike Pence was oblivious to it. Maybe he should have stayed home.