Does President Obama Apologize For America? The Facts Say No
When I was at CPAC two weeks ago, one of the most common themes from speakers seemed to be denouncing the President for “apologizing to the world for America.” The only problem is, he’s never actually done that:
It is an article of faith among top Republicans that President Obama has repeatedly apologized for the United States and its behavior. Even more, the argument goes, he does not believe in American strength and greatness. The assertion feeds into a subterranean narrative that Obama, with his exotic, mixed-race background, is not really American in the first place.
The claim that Obama is an apologist for America actually began to take shape shortly after he became president. It had been bubbling in the conservative blogs before Karl Rove, the former political adviser to George W. Bush, published an article titled “The President’s Apology Tour” in the Wall Street Journal on April 23, 2009, just three months after Obama took the oath of office.
It’s no wonder that Republicans this this theme over and over, because polling shows that the public believes it:
A December Gallup poll found that only 58 percent of those surveyed agreed that Obama believed the United States has a unique character that makes it the greatest country in the world; 37 percent said he did not. By contrast, 74 percent thought George W. Bush did, 77 percent though Bill Clinton did, and 86 percent thought Ronald Reagan did. Among Republicans, 61 percent thought Obama did not believe in the greatness of America.
There’s just one problem, it isn’t true:
Most of the criticism stems from a series of speeches that Obama made shortly after taking office, when he was trying to introduce himself to the world and also signify a break with the Bush administration with new policies, such as pledging to close the detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay.
This is typical of many new presidents. George W. Bush, for instance, quickly broke with Clinton administration policy on dealings with North Korea, the Kyoto climate change treaty and the international criminal court, to name a few.
Rove built his case around four quotes made by Obama:
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.”
In none of these cases does Obama actually use a word at all similar to “apologize.” The Latin American comment might have resonance with Rove’s old boss, since that was Bush’s charge against the Clinton administration in the 2000 campaign. The Prague and London quotes are not apologies at all. The Paris quote, which is often cited as an apology, is taken out of context.
In Paris, Obama was trying to rebuild relations with Europe, where opposition to the Iraq war had run high. The quote in Paris often cited by conservatives is this: “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 doesn’t sound like much of an apology, more of a statement of fact that few international-relations experts would quarrel with
But that’s not the only example that doesn’t measure up:
Another Heritage example is a speech Obama gave in April 2009 to the Turkish parliament, in which he was trying to urge that country to come to terms with its tragic history with the Armenians: “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.”
But compare what Obama said to what George W. Bush said at Senegal’s Goree Island in 2003. Bush called the U.S. constitution flawed and said that America is still troubled by the legacy of slavery. This does not seem like an apology, either — but it is even more sharply framed than Obama’s comments.
We can fairly judge the past by the standards of President John Adams, who called slavery “an evil of callosal magnitude.” We can discern eternal standards in the deeds of William Wilberforce and John Quincy Adams, and Harriet Beecher Stowe and Abraham Lincoln. These men and women, black and white, burned with a zeal for freedom, and they left behind a different and better nation. Their moral vision caused Americans to examine our hearts, to correct our Constitution, and to teach our children the dignity and equality of every person of every race. By a plan known only to Providence, the stolen sons and daughters of Africa helped to awaken the conscience of America. The very people traded into slavery helped to set America free. My nation’s journey toward justice has not been easy and it is not over. The racial bigotry fed by slavery did not end with slavery or with segregation. And many of the issues that still trouble America have roots in the bitter experience of other times. But however long the journey, our destination is set: liberty and justice for all.
Why would Obama’s comment on slavery be considered an apology and not Bush’s?
Umm, let’s see, because Bush was a Republican and Obama is a Democrat? That isn’t very hard to figure out, really.
The final Obama comment that Republicans often cite in their argument that the President doesn’t hold his country in high regard is a response to a question at an April 4, 2009 press conference:
Ed Luce, from the Financial Times. Where’s Ed — there he is.Q Thank you, Mr. President. In the context of all the multilateral activity that’s been going on this week — the G20, here at NATO — and your evident enthusiasm for multilateral frameworks, to work through multilateral frameworks, could I ask you whether you subscribe, as many of your predecessors have, to the school of American exceptionalism that sees America as uniquely qualified to lead the world, or do you have a slightly different philosophy? And if so, would you be able to elaborate on it?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.
That’s where the people who have cited this remark stop and begin their commentary. The problem is they left out what he said next:
I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don’t think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that.
And 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.
Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we’ve got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we’re not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us.
And so I see no contradiction between believing that America has a continued extraordinary role in leading the world towards peace and prosperity and recognizing that that leadership is incumbent, depends on, our ability to create partnerships because we create partnerships because we can’t solve these problems alone.
Sort of puts the first sentence in a completely different light, doesn’t it? No wonder the Sean Hannity’s of the world don’t read the entire response to the question when they go off on their “Obama hates America” rants.
There are plenty of reasons to oppose the President on a policy basis, I certainly do. Heck., its fine with me if you just plain don’t like the guy (although he strikes me as a decent fellow to have a beer with sometime). There’s no need, though, to just make up crap like this.