With the Sochi Olympics just around the corner, the White House must fix its priorities. And fast.
While Russia continues to suffer through two-decades of rampant terrorism waged by North Caucasus separatists, the White House has focused most of its Olympic attention span on promoting Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender diversity. Now that 34 more civilians were killed by twin suicide bombings in Volgograd last month, followed by a security sweep this month that found six dead men inside cars, some rigged to explosives, it's time to start focusing more on security.
Highlighting notable LGBT star athletes for the official U.S. delegation like tennis legend Billie Jean King, figure skater Brian Boitano and women's hockey star Caitlin Cahow is a noble humanitarian gesture, despite the non-sequitur that tennis is a summer sport. But how does that help keep Americans safe in a simmering war zone?
Vladimir Putin gets the message on security. He's spending $50 billion on his signature achievement after 14 years in power. This includes dispatching 37,000 security forces from throughout Russia to Sochi, and turning the Black Sea resort into an armed camp, the tightest security ever for the Olympic Games. And if you think National Security Agency surveillance is tough, that's minor compared to what Putin has in mind.
Yet despite Russia's security efforts, the Olympics have never been in such physical danger. Sochi is in the North Caucasus, just northwest of Georgia, near southern Russian breakaway regions Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia and North Ossetia, where an estimated 160,000 people have been killed since 1994. Once Russians began to level rebel cities like Chechnya's capital of Grozny, the separatist movement adopted a radical Islamist tone that has targeted not only Russians, but Americans too. The Boston Marathon bombers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, were ethnic Chechens raised in nearby Dagestan, before resettling as humanitarian refugees in Boston in 2002. Tamerlan, the elder brother, was later radicalized by separatist militants back in the North Caucasus.
While a small Russian army of police and troops descend on Sochi, it still doesn't solve three major problems.
First, while they are re-assigned from all over Russia, who is minding the store back in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Volgograd? Tens of thousands of Western tourists won't be flying into Sochi directly, while major hub airports and train stations remain vulnerable.
Second, Russia has an earned reputation as one of the most corrupt places on the planet, or some might say, a "mafia state." In a place where salaries are low, doesn't anyone think a few security guards could be bribed by well-funded international terrorists?
Third, Russian forces have killed far more civilians than captors in botched hostage rescues. In re-taking a Moscow packed theater in 2002, they killed 40 Chechen captors, but also more than 130 of 900 hostages via poison gas. Two years later, a siege at a Beslan elementary school in North Ossetia left 32 Chechen separatists dead, along with over 330 civilians, including 186 children.
And these are the guys we trust with the lives of our Olympic athletes and thousands of American visitors? So what should President Barack Obama do?
Instead of scoring domestic political points by continuing to insult Putin on LGBT issues, he should ensure that U.S. athletes and Olympic visitors have historic levels of security. Sorry, sending just a few dozen FBI agents won't suffice. Next, he should ensure closer collaboration with Russia, including intelligence sharing, communications support and pre-positioned hostage rescue capabilities from U.S. commandos.
The Caucasus Emirate, a terrorist organization which boasts "global jihad" and is influenced by al-Qaida and the Taliban, must be convinced that targeting Americans in Russia is a no-win option. Its leader, Chechen Doku Umarov, must believe that he will be hunted down and killed should they try it.