Governor Romney has repeatedly claimed that President Obama went on an “apology tour” after his election. Is the claim valid? If so, is it meaningful?
To answer the first question, I will consider the Heritage Foundation’s list of Obama’s “top 10 apologies,” which supposedly humiliated the United States. I will not re-write each quotation, but simply summarize it.
“Apology” 1: Obama claims that the relationship between the USA and Europe has faltered not just because of “honest disagreements over policy,” but because the USA has lost respect for Europe’s role in the world and has been “dismissive, even derisive.”
Is this an apology? I’d say so. Note, however, that the speech does not end where the Heritage Foundation cuts it off, but continues:
But in Europe, there is an anti-Americanism that is at once casual but can also be insidious. Instead of recognizing the good that America so often does in the world, there have been times where Europeans choose to blame America for much of what’s bad.
On both sides of the Atlantic, these attitudes have become all too common. They are not wise. They do not represent the truth. They threaten to widen the divide across the Atlantic and leave us both more isolated.
With the additional context, this speech can be understood as more diplomatic than apologetic. Obama is attempting to improve our relationship with Europe by acknowledging European criticism even as he points out that Europe itself is not perfect.
“Apology” 2: Obama claims that the USA’s foreign policy regarding Muslims has lately been imperfect, that we have an otherwise good track record, and that we need not be enemies.
Is this an apology? In the sense that it acknowledges that our foreign policy has not been perfect, yes. But that is hardly humiliating. Again, Obama is attempting to be diplomatic by assuring Muslims that we can have a better relationship and appealing to our “track record.”
“Apology” 3: Obama claims that, while the USA has promoted peace and prosperity, it has broken unspecified promises of partnership and respect. He assures the audience that his administration will fulfill those promises and that it will be willing to acknowledge mistakes.
Is this an apology? In the sense that it acknowledges that promises have not been kept and that the USA is not perfect, yes. Mostly, however, he is promising to change the way our country works. Hardly humiliating.
“Apology” 4: Obama claims that the world is too complex for us to act as dictators, so we must seek partnership. He believes that he is setting a different precedent than those of previous administrations.
Is this an apology? In the sense that it acknowledges that the USA has not worked together with the rest of the world when it should have, yes. Mostly, however, he is promising to change the way our country works. Hardly humiliating.
“Apology” 5: Obama claims that, while the USA had good intentions, it acted hastily and made decisions based on fear; that it sometimes tried to make the facts fit ideology; and that it ignored principles for the sake of convenience. He goes on to claim that an election between two candidates who called for a different approach (Obama and McCain) is evidence that the people now oppose torture and Guantanamo bay.
Is this an apology? In the sense that it acknowledges mistakes and moral failings, yes. Mostly, however, he is promising to change the way our country works–and assuring others that he does so with the support of the people. Hardly humiliating.
I could go on, but a pattern has emerged and does continue through the remaining five “apologies.” Romney and many other conservatives see inappropriate or even humiliating apologies where only standard diplomatic efforts–especially from a President who intends to change our policy–can be found. Their judgment says more about them than it does about Obama: it suggests that they believe that change and acknowledgment of failure are weaknesses, that we don’t need other countries, and that we are perfect. In short: they seem to believe that we ought to abandon diplomacy altogether. Unfortunately, bravado does not earn respect. It loses it.
Whether or not Romney’s claim is valid can, I suppose, be left to the reader. The exact nature of an apology likely varies from one person to the next. But it is clear that, even if these speeches are apologies, they are not the sort that proclaim weakness. They simply call for peace through cooperation and a willingness to admit failure instead of through unending threats and applications of force. Moreover, Obama’s form of apology is implicit in any call for change, since change is only needed when current policy has failed or is no longer good enough.
Conservatives are entitled to consider whether or not Obama has lived up to his own standards and really accomplished change. They are entitled to question the efficacy of particular aspects of his foreign policy or diplomacy. However, appeals to pride and effective warmongering combined with attacks on the President’s character and the very concept of diplomacy–all while our military budget already exceeds that of the next twenty largest such budgets combined and while we speak of the necessity of significant budget cuts–are completely inappropriate.