In the debate Monday night, Mitt Romney once again resorted to his claim that President Obama had conducted an overseas “apology tour,” in which he allegedly traveled “to various nations in the Middle East and criticizing America.” As Obama quickly noted, that claim has been debunked as a fabrication by every fact-check organization that has looked at it.
However, that clearly hasn’t dissuaded the Romney camp from continuing to use the claim. In fact, Jennifer Rubin, a conservative columnist for the Washington Post known for her very tight ties to the Romney campaign, devoted her column Tuesday to explaining why in fact the “apology tour” claim is accurate.
As she writes:
“I am hardly the first to compile lists of apologetic utterances from Obama. These include an apology in front of the Turkish Parliament: ‘Another issue that confronts all democracies as they move to the future is how we deal with the past. The United States is still working through some of our own darker periods in our history.’”
That’s an “apology”? I do not see an apology, or anything resembling an apology. Just to confirm the fact, here’s the quotation with a little more context:
“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. Our country still struggles with the legacies of slavery and segregation, the past treatment of Native Americans.”
Again, no apology, just a simple, humble acknowledgement of historical fact.
But why, you may ask, was Obama even raising those issues before a foreign parliament? In that 2009 speech, the president went on to urge Turkey, a longtime U.S. ally, to try to resolve its longstanding differences with neighboring Armenia. Those differences have at their foundation the mass genocide at Turkish hands of as many as 1.5 million ethnic Armenians beginning in 1915.
As Obama told the Turkish legislators, in words that were controversial in Turkey at the time:
“Each country must work through its past. And reckoning with the past can help us seize a better future. I know there’s strong views in this chamber about the terrible events of 1915. And while there’s been a good deal of commentary about my views, it’s really about how the Turkish and Armenian people deal with the past. And the best way forward for the Turkish and Armenian people is a process that works through the past in a way that is honest, open and constructive.”
I suppose that Obama could have tried a different approach. Instead of acknowledging that America too has made mistakes, Obama could have gone the high and mighty route, broaching the delicate issue of Armenia by telling Turkish leaders that we in the United States have demonstrated ourselves at all times to be paragons of perfection, and that they ought to at least try to follow our pristine example.
Somehow, I doubt that would go over very well.
The Turkish example is interesting for another reason. Echoing the Romney/Rubin theory that it is wrong to ever admit a national mistake, the Turks have made it a major crime under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code to even mention the Armenian genocide in public, with jail terms of as long as three years. That, I suppose, takes care of the apology tour issue, although it is not a productive way for a democracy to conduct its affairs.
Another example of a supposed apology cited by Rubin is even more telling. In 2009, in a televised speech to the American people, Obama announced that, among other steps, he had signed an executive order ending the use of “enhanced interrogation”, more plainly known as torture. As Rubin quotes him:
“Unfortunately, faced with an uncertain threat, our government made a series of hasty decisions. … I also believe that all too often our government made decisions based on fear rather than foresight; that all too often our government trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions. Instead of strategically applying our power and our principles, too often we set those principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer afford. And during this season of fear, too many of us — Democrats and Republicans, politicians, journalists, and citizens — fell silent. In other words, we went off course.”
With those words, Obama was attempting to express his disagreement with policies that had been adopted by the Bush administration. But to Rubin, it is something much more sinister.
“Liberals don’t even see that Obama’s excoriating his predecessor is apologizing for this nation, but of course it is. George W. Bush wasn’t acting as a private citizen, and whatever he actions he took were done in the name of the United States.”
Criticizing decisions made by George Bush equates to apologizing for this nation? By trotting out such lame arguments, Rubin succeeds only in confirming just how irresponsible the “apology tour” claim really is.
– Jay Bookman