Jewish World Review Feb. 20, 2002/ 8 Adar, 5762

Charles Krauthammer

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Who Needs Gold Medals? -- AMERICA won the Cold War, pocketed Poland and Hungary and the Czech Republic as door prizes, then proceeded to pulverize Serbia and Afghanistan and, en passant, highlight Europe's irrelevance with a display of vast military superiority. We dominate every field of human endeavor from fashion to film to finance. We rule the world culturally, economically, diplomatically and militarily as no one has since the Roman Empire. So tell me this: Do we really need the men's short-track speed-skating gold medal?

Can we not live without winning the two-man bobsled? Did we really have to beat the Chinese women's hockey team 12-1?

Call me a lefty, but I cringed watching NBC's rah-rah coverage of the Olympics. It was worse than usual. A need for some post-Sept. 11 flag-waving? We've already had a fairly substantial outlet for flag-waving. It's called Afghanistan. Salt Lake, on the other hand, was an opportunity to show a bit of graciousness.

Opportunity missed.

I'm all for blasting bad guys and destroying evil axes to maintain our power and keep the peace. But, good grief, did we really have to run up the score on those helpless Chinese women?

I don't mind whacking the Chinese when necessary. Over Taiwan, say. But women's hockey? Why, they might get sore and take it out on the next visiting Chinese American professor.

I am an unflinching American unilateralist. The trick with unilateralism, however, is to exercise it sparingly, meaning only when the stakes are high. When it comes to important stuff, like missile defense or NATO expansion, we should thumb the Russians in the eye as needed. But not when it doesn't matter. Like, say, pairs figure skating.

Look. I love Canada. And the Canadian skaters clearly won. But from Moscow it appeared a little different. The Canadians actually fell to the ice in the short program, and the finals were close. The Russians saw the subsequent brouhaha as a home-court North American gang-up on evil Ivan. They got so upset they sent a deputy prime minister to Salt Lake to show the flag.

It all worked out in the end with that lovey-dovey, double-ring medal ceremony. But the Russians had a point when they suggested that if the original losers had been not a couple of button-cute Canadians but a pair of grim-faced Chinese, North America might not have risen as one screaming for justice.

I confess right here my lack of patriotism. Speed-skating patriotism, for example. Take that crackup in which the American hope, Apolo Ohno, got tangled in a four-man pile-up a few meters from the finish line, and the leisurely Australian, way behind and praying for a miracle, cruised into first by stepping over bodies.

I feel bad for the American kid, and, for that matter, for the others left sprawling on the ice. But what a great outcome. Australians had never won a gold medal in any Winter Olympics. They needed an act of God -- and they got it. Praise the Lord.

Yet the Salt Lake rink was racked with boos. Pshaw! Here was a chance to wave the Aussie flag and dance Matilda for blokes who've stood with us in every damn war, even the nastier ones like Korea and Vietnam. Why, we should have been trying to fix a race for them, not complaining when they won one by pure luck.

Now, I'm kidding about fixing races. But I'd support a policy of throwing particular competitions in order to flatter, assuage, propitiate and otherwise appease whatever foreigner at the moment needs a little psychic boost.

We control everything else in the world. Can't we let somebody else have a bit of sporting glory?

I've long entertained a theory about the Miracle on Ice, the 1980 Olympic hockey game that the Soviet professionals, the best team on the planet, lost to a pickup team of American collegians. I like to think the KGB ordered the Soviet players to take a dive and give the United States a consolation prize for Afghanistan, which the Soviets had just invaded. We got to chant "USA, USA" and act triumphant. They got Afghanistan. Nice trade.

Why not return the favor? We've got Afghanistan now. Let's give the Russians a hockey game. They could use it. They just had a very bad decade. They lost an empire, 14 Soviet republics, big-foot status -- and now exclusive claim to the pairs figure skating gold. Time for magnanimity.

No. Not, as the liberal wusses would have it, by holding back from expanding NATO into the Baltic states. Give 'em hockey gold.

Call me a traitor, but I'm rooting for Boris.


In a previous column I wrote that loan guarantees by Williams Cos. to a former subsidiary had not been disclosed. I was wrong. The guarantees had been reported in a previous SEC filing.

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