Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012 | 2 a.m.
With President Barack Obama in town this week, I thought it useful to explore a commonly held belief about his foreign policy, namely that Obama has apologized for America and doesn’t believe in “American exceptionalism.”
There’s plenty to criticize in his foreign policy, such as, what will happen to Afghanistan when we leave? Or, what’s happening in Iraq now that we’re mostly gone?
But this apology stuff? It’s bumper sticker jingoism, a Sharron Angle email forward from your deranged uncle, a Facebook post from some guy you went to ska shows with in high school but somehow became a rabid right winger.
The apology argument is timely, as Obama’s Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, attacked him late Tuesday on the issue, in the wake of a rocket attack that killed the American ambassador to Libya and three of his embassy staff.
In case you missed it: Though the origins remain mysterious, someone made an amateurish film, or a trailer of a film, that’s essentially a bad, unfunny satire of the life of Muhammad. Perhaps anticipating an uproar and under duress as protesters gathered, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo issued a statement early Tuesday that said, in part: “We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.” Later, a rocket attack killed the American diplomats in Libya.
Romney released a statement condemning Obama, saying, “It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” On Wednesday, Romney called the embassy statement “akin to an apology.”
This was pretty much false. The embassy statement came before, not after, the attacks, and anyway, the secretary of state speaks for America abroad, and here’s what Hillary Clinton said late Tuesday in response to the attacks: “I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today. ... Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”
The rather ham-handed Romney attack wasn’t surprising, not just because Romney has struggled to convey authority or a deft touch on foreign policy matters — “American Borat,” they’re calling him abroad — but because there’s a deep-rooted belief among conservatives that Obama is always apologizing for America.
The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler laid it out last year.
Romney, the Heritage Foundation, Donald Rumsfeld, etc., all have attacked Obama for being un-American by apologizing for America.
The critique sounds to me like the kind of thing you’d hear after a couple kegs of beer in a fraternity house — “Bro! No apologies for Sigma Nu, bro!”
Or, in our case, yes, we invaded your country under the pretense that it was stockpiling dangerous weapons, and, yes, it turned out you didn’t have those weapons, and, yes, our invasion sparked a brutal civil war, but ... no apologies!
In any case, here’s a few examples from Kessler of Obama “apologizing”:
“In America, there’s a failure to appreciate Europe’s leading role in the world. Instead of celebrating your dynamic union and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.”
That’s not an apology, but it is certainly true. Just ask Rumsfeld, who derided France and Germany as “old Europe” for not joining the Iraq war. He really put it to them that time.
But anyway, here’s the rest of what Obama said: “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.”
Sounds to me like Obama is defending the United States from the “blame America first” crowd in Europe.
Here’s another apology: “The United States is still working through some of our own darker periods in our history. Facing the Washington Monument that I spoke of is a memorial of Abraham Lincoln, the man who freed those who were enslaved even after Washington led our Revolution.”
As Kessler points out, Obama’s predecessor, President George W. Bush, said something similar in 2003, though much more detailed.
Earlier this year, Obama did apologize in a letter to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai for what he said was the “inadvertent” burning of Korans by NATO troops. (I nearly missed that one, but if I had, I wouldn’t have apologized.)
Bush also apologized — actually apologized — for mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners and a shooting of the Koran.
More pointedly, the Bush administration correctly noted that America’s decades-long policy of coddling oil-rich Middle Eastern dictators had contributed to the political and economic environment that spawned terrorism, which sounds pretty apologetic to me.
(I apologize if this is running long.)
Finally, when it comes to America’s special role in the world, American exceptionalism, Obama said this early in his term: “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Aha! Romney, in his book “No Apologies,” which could be the title of thousands of bad pro sports memoirs, wrote that this reply was proof that Obama doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism.
But, as with so many Romney attacks on Obama, there’s always another Obama sentence that Romney leaves out.
So here’s the rest of what Obama said: “I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. ... If you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.”
Note how he didn’t mention that he’s proud of how much we love Jesus. Did you notice that? Does he think we don’t love Jesus?
Potential sequel to Romney’s “No Apologies”: “Yes, America Loves Jesus, Despite What Some Kenyan Muslim Socialist Usurpers Think.”