Palin said: “I wish that some in the media would keep things like that in perspective, what is really important in our country. And what is important is our freedoms, America’s security, our liberty.”That last bit was a swipe at President Obama's apologies while traveling abroad. Conservatives have pummeled him for it, including Rush Limbaugh in an interview on Fox News last week:
Later, citing military families that have lost loved ones, she again drew loud applause by saying: “Let us continue to love our country, be proud of our country, never apologize for our country.”
Lookit, Greta, he goes around the country, apologizes for this country everywhere he goes. He never once refers to, thinks about, talks about American exceptionalism.And Karl Rove already got his word in last April:
Mr. Obama told the French (the French!) that America "has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive" toward Europe. In Prague, he said America has "a moral responsibility to act" on arms control because only the U.S. had "used a nuclear weapon." In London, he said that decisions about the world financial system were no longer made by "just Roosevelt and Churchill sitting in a room with a brandy" -- as if that were a bad thing. And in Latin America, he said the U.S. had not "pursued and sustained engagement with our neighbors" because we "failed to see that our own progress is tied directly to progress throughout the Americas.Rove goes on to define the crux of the issue:
Mr. Obama makes it seem as though there is moral equivalence between America and its adversaries and assumes that if he confesses America's sins, other nations will confess theirs and change. But he won no confessions (let alone change) from the leaders of Venezuela, Nicaragua or Russia. He apologized for America and our adversaries rejoiced. Fidel Castro isn't easing up on Cuban repression, but he is preparing to take advantage of Mr. Obama's policy shifts.An excellent question Mr. Rove. What is there to be gained by a president apologizing? Let's think this through.
When a president desires personal popularity, he can lose focus on vital American interests. It's early, but with little to show for the confessions, David Axelrod of Team Obama was compelled to say this week that the president planted, cultivated and will harvest "very, very valuable" returns later. Like what?
First, we must accept that apologies in and of themselves are not a sign of weakness, despite what partisans may tell you. Job apologized to GOD for speaking about things he didn't understand (Job 42:1-6 NIV):
Then Job replied to the LORD :Rush Limbaugh gets this. He had to apologize to our president earlier this year after laughing along with a caller who compared the commander-in-chief's looks to Curious George, the monkey from the classic children's books. The comparison carried racial overtones Limbaugh didn't recognize because he'd never heard of the character, and he quickly distanced himself once somebody informed him.
"I know that you can do all things;
no plan of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?'
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
"You said, 'Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.'
My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes."
Just this week, President Obama apologized -- sort of -- for calling Cambridge police actions "stupid" in speaking about the Henry Gates arrest affair, after admitting he didn't know all the facts. It wasn't a flat-out apology for the words, but rather regret for not choosing the right ones:
Stepping before a surprised White House press corps, he said he regretted his July 22 statement and called [arresting officer Sgt. James] Crowley an "outstanding police officer and a good man."A lot of people would say, "That's not an apology!" But you can make the same argument about President Obama's statements abroad the way Rove phrases them:
"I want to make clear that in my choice of words, I think I unfortunately ... gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sgt. Crowley specifically," the President said.
"I could have calibrated those words differently, and I told this to Sgt. Crowley."
- Telling the French that America "has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive" toward Europe
- Saying America has "a moral responsibility to act" on arms control because only the U.S. had "used a nuclear weapon"
- Saying that decisions about the world financial system were no longer made by "just Roosevelt and Churchill sitting in a room with a brandy" -- as if that were a bad thing
- Saying in Latin America that the U.S. had not "pursued and sustained engagement with our neighbors" because we "failed to see that our own progress is tied directly to progress throughout the Americas
George W. Bush made notable apologies during his term as well, one to Iraq for an American sniper using the Koran as target practice, another to Korea after two girls were struck and killed by an American military vehicle. As the New York Times reported on the latter:
''President Bush, who has visited Korea and has a special feeling for the Korean people, has been touched by this tragedy,'' said [American ambassador Thomas] Hubbard. ''Just this morning, the president sent me a message asking me to convey his apologies to the families of the girls, to the government of the Republic of Korea and to the people of Korea.''Note the use of the word "apology." Here are two occasions where Americans clearly did something wrong, beyond a mere difference of policy opinion, and a president clearly apologized, not backtracked, not backpedaled or spin-doctored.
But if you are to apply Sarah Palin's logic without exception -- and saying "never apologize" leaves little room for that -- you're ordering President Bush to keep his mouth shut. It doesn't sound like a very "prudent" foreign policy, to borrow a word from his father.
I recognize there's a difference between apologizing for the policies of this nation's government and for the actions of individual citizens. Clearly, Sarah Palin is talking within the context of policy. But let's get real: many associate one with the other. Technically, President Bush wasn't responsible for either the Koran or the Korea incidents, yet he apologized on behalf of all of us, because he knows other nations form their opinion of America based on the actions of our citizens. In the movie Stripes, where the American GI's are walking into the barracks in Germany, a big sign hangs over their heads reminding them they are now "ambassadors" in a foreign country. I've never seen any sign like that in real life, but the directive to our troops is the same, and only a minuscule number of servicemembers fail to live up to that.
So yes, a president does need to apologize. But no, not everything that sounds like an apology is an apology. It may be construed as an apology if you're across the political spectrum, but taking a honest look at it -- a non-partisan look -- reveals otherwise.
Returning to Karl Rove's question, what "valuable returns" will President Obama gain from his statements overseas, if indeed you consider them apologies? Let's return to Rove's take on Obama's statements:
Mr. Obama makes it seem as though there is moral equivalence between America and its adversaries and assumes that if he confesses America's sins, other nations will confess theirs and change. But he won no confessions (let alone change) from the leaders of Venezuela, Nicaragua or Russia.Rove's argument here is that a public apology is only worthy if you get another apology in return. How many times does that happen in our own lives? You may have apologized for hurting a friend or a family member with your words or actions and not received forgiveness, let alone an apology in return. That's not the way things work, as Rove points out. However, the lack of quid pro quo shouldn't preclude us from making apologies in the first place. The Lord's Prayer commands us to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass upon us; it doesn't have a footnote saying "only if you get something back." I wonder what Rove thought about President Bush's apologies to Iraq and Korea. He might have told you it was the right thing to do. My point exactly.
But let me add apologies to that long list of things that are in the eye of the beholder. If it's not sincere enough for our tastes, it's not an apology. If they give even the slightest hint of remorse, it is an apology. I refuse to let my patriotism be defined on the basis of whether I've apologized for this nation... or not. The attitude smacks of that Vietnam-era slogan, "America, love it or leave it!"
I know this post is a little long. I apologize for that.