January 20, 2014

Should the U.S. skip Sochi?

There are security threats with Islamic terrorist overtones.  There's Vladimir Putin tripping all over himself to say that Russia is an open society, all the while comparing homosexuality to pedophilia.  There's president Obama calling Al Qaida a shadow of its former self - not acknowledging a potentially serious threat. There's Russia putting pressure on the Ukraine not to join the E.U. in deeper trade ties, causing unrest in that nation.   It all makes for a potentially unpleasant Sochi Olympics next month in Russia.

The most worrisome is the potential threat to spectators and athletes, regardless of nationality.
"We've prepared a present for you and all tourists who'll come over," the video says in part.
"If you hold the Olympics, you'll get a present from us for the Muslim blood that's been spilled."
The US-based SITE Monitoring Service identified the men as "purported Volgograd bombers Suleiman and Abdul Rahman."
December suicide bombings at a railway station and on a trolleybus in the southern Russian city -- which investigators have linked to suspects from the mostly Muslim republic of Dagestan -- killed 34 and injured dozens.

Islamist insurgents based in North Caucasus republics such as Dagestan who are seeking their own independent state have vowed to disrupt the Sochi Games in order to undermine Russian President Vladimir Putin. 
"The threats are real. They are basically calling for attacks on the Olympics. I think you're going to see attempts to do that," said Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
It's not like it hasn't happened before.  In 1972 terrorists attacked the Olympics in Munich.

There was also an incident in Atlanta in 1996.  Remember in 2012 Mitt Romney was slammed for his comments on the potential security risk at the London Olympics?  The press blasted it as a gaffe, but the safety of innocent civilians should never be ignored, let alone used as a political bludgeon.

There are unfortunately politics around the Olympics. In 1980 the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Olympics as a protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  In 1984 the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries boycotted the L.A. Olympics in retaliation.  Boycotting the Sochi Olympics as a political statement on Putin's oppressive regime (with his comments about homosexuality as a premise and indicator of the bigger problem) is just not in the cards.

But the safety concerns are real.  The Russian threat of intimidation and brutal reprisals after-the-fact if there were to be terrorist actions in Sochi are not going to be enough to deter terrorism.  Thye possibility that something will happen is very real, and skipping the Olympics if there is a clear and present danger is something worth considering.  Not as a knee-jerk reaction, but a threat assessment is very important.

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