No medal for Bush this time

He’s golden on Africa but leaden on China

Earlier this week, President Bush signed a bill pledging $48 billion over five years to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in Africa. In doing so, he continued his laudable leadership in the effort (so far hugely successful) to fight these horrific scourges and save millions of lives. History may well record it as the brightest spot in his otherwise dismal record.

But we can’t let his decision to attend the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics go unmentioned. White House publicists have said he’s going because of his desire to attend the world’s premier sports competition and because it “would be an affront to the Chinese people” to stay away.

Well, maybe so, but we have to wonder. Events on the ground in China suggest that, for the totalitarian Chinese government, at least, the games are nothing if not political. Authorities are rounding up and jailing dissidents by the thousands, profiling and tracking foreign journalists and closely monitoring the Internet to make sure nothing disturbs their carefully crafted image of harmony and competence. If anything, the approaching Olympics have brought out the worst of the government’s tendency to oppress its own people.

The president didn’t have to attend the opening ceremonies. Several other heads of state have declined their invitations. And British Prime Minister Gordon Brown compromised by agreeing to attend the closing ceremonies instead of the opening. In addition, both John McCain and Barack Obama have said they wouldn’t have attended.

We’re not arguing the U.S. government shouldn’t be fully engaged with China. But the president’s decision reeks of “making nice” at a time when a much stronger human-rights message needs to be sent.