Sorry, Mitt--Obama doesn't "apologize for America." But if he occasionally did, would that be so horrible?
By David Sirota
To know the fact checkers are right is to simply go to Glenn Beck’s website and watch the collage of Obama video clips that Republican “Apology Tour” promoters insist is the documentary evidence supporting their hysterical agitprop. In those clips, of course, you won’t see any apology or contrition at all. Instead, you will merely see honesty and a recounting of indisputable facts. You will, for instance, see a president admit that “we sometimes make mistakes” that “we have not been perfect” and that we “at times have sought to dictate our terms” rather than work multilaterally. You will see him admit that when it comes to Europe, “There have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive even derisive.” You will see him speak frankly about the United States, saying the country is “still working through some of our own darker periods in our history” and making some “required some course corrections.” You will even see him echo conservative libertarian critics of the Patriot Act by saying that, “In some cases (9/11) led us to act contrary to our traditions and ideals.”
In short, you won’t see contrition, you will merely see a president do what Affleck did—merely acknowledge basic contextual facts that, whether we like it or not, define and shape our ongoing foreign and national security policy challenges. Because that is even more rare and taboo in politics than it is in Hollywood, Obama has been excoriated by a completely fictitious story that has absolutely no connection to reality.
Considering its mendacity, why has “The Apology Tour” nonetheless metastasized into a talking point that is repeated so much that it has become unquestioned assumption? Because it taps into a virulent strain of jingoism that has been ascendant on the political right—a strain that got a public boost in the 1980s with Jeanne Kirkpatrick’s “Blame America First Crowd” speech and now categorizes any recitation of inconvenient historical facts or truisms as akin to “hating America.” Indeed, only a few years after George W. Bush rightly apologized for the atrocities at Abu Ghraib, the right’s “Apology Tour” catechism now effectively posits that the only way for a president to love America and build relationships in the world is for that president to never admit we’ve made mistakes and to use trips to foreign capitals as occasions to give the world a big Old-Glory-wrapped middle finger.
This raises another, even more troubling question: Even if Obama had actually apologized for American mistakes in the past (which, again, he didn’t), would that have been so horrible? The right says yes, arguing—as Romney did during the debate—that the world looks at contrition and sees “weakness.” This is a reiteration of the belief most clearly articulated by Sarah Palin, who said that no matter what happens or what we do, we have “nothing to apologize for.”
But, then, was Bush harming America when he apologized for Abu Ghraib? Was President Ronald Reagan showing “weakness” and unpatriotically undermining the country when he apologized to Japan, France, China and Soviet-controlled Poland for various international episodes? Hardly. They were instead showing the world that an exceptional nation is one that is mature enough to recognize problems and mistakes and to, yes, pursue what Obama would call a “course correction.” They were also showing their comprehension of the most coldly calculating truism in statecraft: Preserving important relationships and/or opening the possibility of bilateral reconciliation often means copping to the mistakes we’ve made.
Doing so doesn’t mean we are denigrating ourselves or even assuming blame for a soured international relationship. It just means we are fessing up to our past errors in the hopes of building trust and alliances in the future. Had Obama not merely noted disturbing facts but apologized for some of them, he would have deserved the same bipartisan support his predecessors received when they rightly expressed contrition. After all, if the weakening of history’s run-of-the-mill empires typically has been marked by hubris and an aversion to admitting mistakes, then those most interested in strengthening a truly Exceptional America should heartily embrace the opposite: namely, humility and a willingness to apologize for obvious transgressions.
Don't be fooled by the moderate Mitt of last night's debate. His worldview is radically different from Obama's
By Kevin Mattson
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, projects a dangerous philosophy that America can reshape history to its liking. Throughout the campaign, Romney has tried to depict Obama as tentative and almost embarrassed by American power. Last night, he reiterated his bizarre charge that Obama went on an “apology tour” in the Middle East. Romney last night talked more about “peace” than about war, but in his key statement on foreign policy, an Oct. 8 address at the Virginia Military Institute, he talked up a president’s right and duty “to use America’s great power to shape history,” and cited the need for “confidence in our cause” and “resolve in our might.”
For Romney, any hint of concern that America might make mistakes, overextend itself or submit to virtually any constraint projects an image of weakness.
In an election where slipperiness on a range of issues is the hallmark of Romney’s candidacy, President Obama would have done voters a service by laying out his larger vision of America’s role in the world, and highlighting the deep gulf between his philosophy and Romney’s. The choice before us is too consequential to let such fundamental differences slip by without debate.
For more on the subject, see Obama vs. Romney on Manifest Destiny and Hitler Loved Manifest Destiny.