Bush on his Olympic Plans

Is George W. Bush still planning to attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympics? When reporters asked White House spokesman Dana Perino Wednesday about the president's intentions, Perino responded that it was "way too far in advance for us to announce the president's schedule." Perino's answer came as the controversy over which world leaders would be in Beijing continued to mount. France's Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany's Angela Merkel have threatened to snub the performance in protest over China's human-rights record and the crackdown in Tibet. In Britain, initial reports that Prime Minister Gordon Brown would join the boycott were overtaken by announcements that Brown had only planned to be there at the end rather than the start anyway. Meanwhile, in a rare political rebuke, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge called on the Chinese government to respect its "moral engagement" to improve human rights and to provide the media with greater access to the country ahead of the Beijing games.

In Washington, Perino said that she could not yet say what the U.S. president would do about attending the opening ceremonies. However, in an exclusive interview with Raymond Arroyo that airs April 11 on the Roman Catholic cable-television network EWTN, Bush said that he indeed still intended to go. Excerpts:

RAYMOND ARROYO: You are now planning on going to the Olympics …
GEORGE W. BUSH:
Yes.

... to be at the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. You just said earlier, freedom is a gift from the Almighty. Considering the human-rights record …
Yes.

… of that [Chinese] regime, how can you in good conscience go to that ceremony, Mr. President?
Because I—you know, I'm going to the Olympics, for starters. My plans haven't changed ... I don't need the Olympics to express my position to the Chinese leadership on freedom. I just don't need them—because that's all I have been doing as your president. In other words—if people say, well, you need to express yourself clearly about freedom of religion, my answer is, what do you think I've been doing?

Angela Merkel boycotted it
I don't think she boycotted it, necessarily.

She's not attending the opening ceremonies, it appears.
She's not attending the Games, period. I don't think she's going to Beijing at all, at least that's what she told me. But look, I hear all this rhetoric. I want to be an effective president. And I don't think it—as I say, I'm going to Beijing.

We're talking about the Chinese people, as well. And the question is, does the American president take decisions that will enable the next president to be effective or not. I've made my case. These Chinese leaders know exactly my position. I've talked about freedom of religion every time I visited with them. I've talked about Darfur. I've talked about Burma. I've talked about the Dalai Lama. As a matter of fact, I'm the only president to ever stand up in public with the Dalai Lama here in the United States. So they know my position.

And my question that I think about is, if I politicize the Olympic Games, will that make it less effective for me to deal with them, or more effective? But nobody needs to tell old George Bush what to—that he needs to bring religious freedom to the doorstep of the Chinese, because I've done that now for—I'm on my eighth year doing it.