Why “no apologies” Mitt needs to grow up

Sorry, Mitt -- Obama doesn't "apologize for America." But if he did occasionally, would that be so horrible?

Topics: Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, Foreign policy, American Exceptionalism, 2012 Elections, apology tour,

Among the qualities that make Ben Affleck’s new film “Argo” so superb and groundbreaking is its willingness to put American history into its full context — regardless of whether that context offends the chest-thumping theology of American Exceptionalism™. Rather than starting the story at the moment U.S. diplomats were taken hostage in Tehran in 1979, and therefore simply portraying Iranians as wild animals motivated by inexplicable rage, Affleck first documents America’s blood-soaked intervention in Iran, from deposing a democratically elected president to installing a brutal dictator. That is, he levels with us and with his global audience, acknowledging what the CIA calls “blowback” — the logical idea that our acts of violence and aggression will likely provoke a violent reaction, in the same way that acts of violence against us provoke a violent reaction from us.

In starting his film with this examination, Affleck proves he is a more mature, thoughtful and serious filmmaker than those in Hollywood (which is to say, most in Hollywood) who produce films that never tell any backstory because it gets in the way of the old ticket-selling Good America vs. Bad Foreigner storyline. He also proves he is a more mature, thoughtful and serious citizen than most Republican politicians and conservative media voices who have used the 2012 election campaign to promote their own Good America vs. Bad Muslim retread — the one called “The Apology Tour.”

Brought to you by the same Republican fabulists who produced the 2009 blockbuster fiction called “Death Panel,” “The Apology Tour” — most recently invoked in the last presidential debate and now the focus of a new Romney campaign ad — tells the tale of a traitorous and unpatriotic new president who travels the world telling other countries how much he despises America for all of its failures both at home and abroad. Thanks to this, goes the fantastical story, the president has seditiously and deliberately undermined his own nation by projecting weakness and fear.



Truth-wise, “The Apology Tour” is about as factual as “Love Actually” — which is to say that, yes, there is a president of the United States, and this president does travel abroad and make speeches, but just like our president did not create a diplomatic crisis by leering at a British secretary, he did not travel abroad and give speeches apologizing for America. As CNN’s fact-checkers summarize, when Obama took the international trip in question in 2009, he “never uttered an apology for the United States.” This was previously confirmed by PolitiFact, which gave “The Apology Tour” its “Pants on Fire” rating, which is nothing short of the Academy Award for political lying.

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.

David Sirota

David Sirota is a senior writer for the International Business Times and the best-selling author of the books "Hostile Takeover," "The Uprising" and "Back to Our Future." E-mail him at ds@davidsirota.com, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>