Russian President Vladimir Putin is outfitting his Olympic athletes with whatever equipment they need to win medals in Sochi.
At the same time, he is propping up Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad with weapons that have killed more than 130,000 people, a third of those civilians, including thousands of children. Millions of Syrian civilians have been forced to leave their bombed-out cities, hope that flimsy tents will protect them against the biting Middle Eastern winter wind, and live on very little food.
As so-called negotiations between rebel groups and the Syrian government failed in Geneva, Assad’s air forces were dropping barrel bombs – literally barrels filled with gasoline, explosive charges, and shrapnel – on the city of Aleppo. The Syrians attack Homs as the U.N. tries to evacuate anyone who has the misfortune still to be there.
Putin is hoping that reports of his glistening Olympic City will keep the Syrian story and the human rights debacle off the front pages of Western newspapers and so out of our minds.
It sometimes seems as if he is succeeding. Many people worry more about our snowboarding team and ice hockey prospects than they do about little children whose parents have died before their eyes, or the babies who aren’t going to leave Syria alive.
It wasn’t enough that Putin’s anti-gay measures, laws that could take a child away from his same-gender parents, fly directly in the face of the Olympic Charter, which bans any sort of discrimination. Yet we get caught up in the return of the Jamaican bobsled team, and feel a surge of nationalism when an American wins a medal in luge.
What has happened is we have forgotten ourselves. This is exactly what Putin wanted. He knew it would happen. We tear up over a good commercial showing an American child’s dream of being an Olympian one day, and we forget that Syrian children have had all hope stolen from them. While biathletes ski and shoot at targets from standing and prone positions, Russian-backed Syrian snipers fire on families running for their lives.
Soon these Olympics will be over. The attention will be off of Sochi. LGBT families will continue to struggle within Russia. We’ll learn more about the horrific human conditions in Syria.
On Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry pointed his finger at Russia when the most recent round of negotiations on Syria failed in Geneva.
But wait, the networks tell us about where we stand in the medals rankings as opposed to Russia.
Tennis great Billie Jean King, an out lesbian, will join the U.S. team for closing ceremonies as a message for Putin. He doesn’t care. He knows the public is in its Olympic trance.
Like Hitler’s 1936 Olympics, which camouflaged Germany’s bigoted, anti-Semitic policies, the artificial ice of Putin’s 2014 Olympics mostly covers up the deadly numbers coming out of Syria and human rights violations within Russia.
One thing is certain. Human rights and the al-Assad atrocities aren’t going to make it to the medals podium.