Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) suggested this week in an interview with the Hill that the U.S. should consider boycotting the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia if NSA leaker Edward Snowden is granted asylum in Russia. Since his comments were published on Tuesday evening, Senator Graham has already begun to retreat, having received little support among his colleagues.
According to Graham, boycotting the Olympics would be the "most unequivocal signal" that Russia's grant of asylum would be a "breach of the rule of law as we know it and … a slap in the face to the United States." Although the senator began backtracking almost immediately via Twitter, writing "I don't know if putting the Olympics on the table is the right answer, but I do know this: What we're doing is not working," he has continued to elaborate on his concerns. On Wednesday, he told CNN that "I would consider anything to change Russia's behavior. What I want to do is get people focused on what Russia is doing to the world." This goes beyond the Snowden incident and extends to Russia's support for Syria and Iran’s nuclear aspirations.
While Graham's closest political allies advocate a hard line against Russia, even they have stopped short of supporting the boycott suggestion. According to Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), this is because "the experience of canceling the Olympics the last time around wasn't very good." Senator McCain is referring, of course, to the 1980 summer games in Moscow which the U.S. boycotted in response to the Soviet Union's 1979 invasion of Afghanistan.
By not "very good" Senator McCain probably means something along the lines of "hugely ineffective," and while boycotting the Olympics is a largely symbolic gesture in any case, the fact that Graham's comments have received little support suggests that times have changed. Either that, or we've learned from the past. Following the 1980 games the Soviet-Afghan war dragged on for nearly a decade, punctuated by a Soviet-led communist bloc boycott of the 1984 summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Further, critics of a boycott such as Graham's close friend House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have cited the enormous amount of time that our nation's athlete’s have put in to the upcoming games, asking, "Why would we want to punish U.S. athletes who've been training three years to compete in the Olympics over a traitor who can't find a place to call home?" Together, McCain and Boehner's comments reflect a level of pragmatism we are not quite used to from our national politicians. Graham certainly has a point worth considering that Russia's hand in global politics bears a great deal of scrutiny. But apparently such scrutiny does not warrant Cold War-era political theater. Yet.