Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Which Things Should America Apologize For?

I recently wrote about my puzzlement at what those attending the "Restoring Honor" rally thought had dishonored America. In response, "Whit" cited President Obama's "apology tour." The so-called apology tour is a good example of my puzzlement about what it is that Glenn Beck and followers are afraid of.

Human Events magazine, no friend of President Obama's, listed what they thought were the top ten "apologies" made by the president. The president said that the United States has, at times, acted unilaterally and arrogantly in relation to Europe and Latin America. This seems to me obviously true. This does not constitute apologizing to thugs, as Whit contended. Likewise, his offer to "communicate with the Muslim world" is a good thing, and allowing that we have not been perfect is also obviously true.

All of the apologies listed by Human Events sound to me true and helpful in establishing just and sensible relations with the rest of the world.

What I do think hurt America's honor were torture, imprisonment without charge or counsel, and unilateral force without even attempting to work with our allies. The Bush administration took the huge good will that the United States had around the world after 9/11, and turned it into shame by these practices.

And then, incomprehensibly, President Bush could not think of a single mistake his administration had made.

Every person and every government makes mistakes. Acting arrogantly destroys just relations with others, even our allies. Trying to talk to opponents is a necessary foundation for reducing conflict and for any chance of helping them improve. Admitting your mistakes, even admitting that you are capable of mistakes, is moral, true, and just common sense.

24 comments:

Whit said...

Since I was mentioned by name, I suppose I have to respond.

My criticism was not of apologizing in general, but of apologizing to thugs, theocrats, terrorists and thieves. There is a huge difference between apologizing to Poland for pulling the rug out from under them with missile defense just to please the Russians, or apologizing to Honduran democrats for interfering when they constitutionally tossed a Marxist, on the one hand, and cozying up to folks like Chavez and Castro on the other. While we should be circumspect when talking about it, we must always preserve our own understanding of the vast gulf between ourselves, a free-market democracy preserving basic liberties through the protection of property rights and the rule of law, and governments of such nations as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, etc. One example of that gulf, we have a vigorous debate about the propriety (not legality) of building a mosque yards from Ground Zero. In Saudi Arabia there are no churches.

There is also a vast difference between admitting error and apologizing. Admitting error is generally a step in avoiding error in the future. Apologizing is only therapeutic and mostly useless. I would challenge anyone to suggest what benefit all of Obama’s apologizing has brought us.

We must always keep in mind that international relations are utterly different than interpersonal relations, and the same rules do not apply. As Bret Stephens points out in today’s WSJ, the purpose of international relations for the US is not to feel good about ourselves, or to cause other people to feel good about us. The purpose is to create a more stable and peaceful world in which democracy, liberty and prosperity can grow. That purpose requires that we do what is necessary to defend ourselves and preserve our power and authority. Sometimes that will mean working with other nations. At other times it will mean unilateral action. Sometimes we will flatter other governments. Other times we will bully. Sometimes force is needed. At other times it is counter-productive. Certainly there are moral limits to the way we conduct foreign policy, but within those limits our policy is to be judged on results and not the way people feel about us.

Mac said...

"Never apologize. It's a sign of weakness." Captain Nathan Brittles (John Wayne) in She Wore A Yellow Ribbon.

Either we are a super power or we are subservient to the country or countries that are.

Gruntled said...

The ability to admit when you are wrong is a sign of strength and confidence. The inability to admit when you are wrong is a sign of weakness. The inability to know when you are wrong is a sign of foolishness. The belief that you are never wrong is a sign of psychopathology.

Arrogance breeds enemies. No good comes of it.

Justice and candor breed trust. This makes for a better world, and serves our interests.

plank said...

Again Beau, the name calling. I have been following your blog for years. What you have just experienced here is your clock being cleaned. And without name calling. Thanks Whit.

Anonymous said...

Why say that believing that you are never wrong is a psychopathology. No one has argued that and it is a bit condescending to imply it.

Whit said...

In diplomacy, candor is sometimes good. Sometimes not.

Suppose we told the Iranian Mullahs that they are an evil, backward, dangerous, ignorant bunch of theocrats, and that nothing will help that unhappy land until they are gone. Suppose we told them we were going to do everything in our power, short of war, to consign them to the dustbin of history where they belong. That has my vote for candor. But perhaps it is not in our interest to say so?

I tend to think that, at least with adversaries, a little studied ambiguity is often the best. If the bad guys think you might just be crazy enough to send them all to where they get the 72 virgins, or whatever, maybe they will behave themselves.

Gruntled said...

Which if the Human Events "apologies" do you think is untrue?

Scott Pilgrim said...

Beau. Your kung fu is weak.

Kerri said...

I think it is difficult for some to reconcile the bad things America has done with our national narrative myth that America is Awesome. If America does bad stuff, America can't be awesome, right? So it is easiest to just say, let's forget about the bad and think about the future.

Thus, I think that Beck's iceberg (or that of his followers), is unease with the idea that "America is a great country that has made terrible, terrible mistakes."

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness Beau, Kerri, and the other apologists were not in charge during WWII, or else wir w├╝rden alle Deutsch jetzt sprechen.

Mac said...

Oooooh, this is fun. You asked which of the HE list I disagree with. Here they are.

1. Europe has a leading role in the world? Since when? The French have surrendered so many times since the Franco-Prussian War that it axiomatic that they can never be trusted as an ally. The Germans tried to be and we know how that turned out. It was the United States—alone—that had the power and the will to stop Stalin from moving to the Atlantic coast.

When you “apologize” to a bunch of sniveling weaklings and condescendingly refer to them as “leaders,” you send a signal to the real powers that desire to put a knife twixt your short ribs that you are either weak or stupid.

2. Wrong! His job is be the President of the United States, not the buddy of the Muslim world. He needs to communicate to the Muslim world that when they allow gangsters to attack our country and kill our citizens, there will be a terrible price to pay. Imagine if, on 8 December 1941, FDR had said “My job to the Japanese people is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy. We only have a beef with your warlords. So please don’t think harshly of us”

I much prefer the President to remind the world that “No matter how long it may take us to overcome [any attack], the American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory. . . . [W]e will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.”

5. “Unfortunately, faced with an uncertain threat, our government made a series of hasty decisions. I believe that many of these decisions were motivated by a sincere desire to protect the American people. ”

This is so wrong on so many levels. If he really believes that we are faced with an uncertain threat, he should resign and get someone in there who has some grasp on reality. The world is full of people who most certainly want to reduce us to ashes.
And then he says that the “hasty decisions” were the result of “a sincere desire to protect the American people.” Uh, yeah. That is his first and foremost constitutional duty. In a dangerous world, it is oft-times necessary to shoot first. The old warrior maxim “kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out” can be roughly translated, “Screw with us and we are gonna rock your world. And we’ll do it happily, with no apology!”

6. “In dealing with terrorism, we can’t lose sight of our values and who we are. That’s why I closed Guantanamo. That’s why I made very clear that we will not engage in certain interrogation practices. ”

Well, first of all, thankfully, he has not closed Gitmo. And see what happens when the bad guys pop a nuke in DC or New York City or LA. If it comes out that we had some intel that it was coming and did not use every possible technique to winnow out the truth, he’ll be charged with treason. (That was one of Truman’s bases for executing the “Hiroshima-Nagasaki one-second slum clearance program.”) Your values mean nothing when you lose—the victor’s values prevail. Our enemies have a lot of values that we will not like.

8. “Too often, the United States has not pursued and sustained engagement with our neighbors. We have been too easily distracted by other priorities, ....”

If he is saying that we need to put other nations’ priorities ahead of what is best for the United States, he has no business being President! Our national interests need always be number one.

10. “There is also no question that Guantanamo set back the moral authority that is America’s strongest currency in the world.”

It is nice to be admired and respected. It is better to be feared and respected.

Now, I can sit back and listen to the howls from the academy.

Anonymous said...

They won't howl They are a tolerant, forgiving lot. They care about the feelings of the other more than you can ever know. Really.

Whit said...

Kerri:
Compared to who? I never said the US was perfect, or never erred. My point was that we should not apologize to governemtns that are so far below us on the morality scale.

Looked at over the long haul, and on balance, there has never been a nation on the face of the globe that has created as much good as we have in terms of prosperity, government, liberty, scientifically, etc. We need to "mend [its] every flaw" but never lose site of where we are in comparison with the Irans, Saudis, Castros, etc.

Whit said...

Gruntled:
I'm no particular fan of HE, but here goes:
1. Europe would get a bigger voice if it could contribute more. Britain and France are the only countries with the ability to project military force, and I read yesterday that they are apparently going to combine their navies to save money. If we're the ones paying the piper, we get to call the tune.
2. I'm OK with things like that as long as we add, in diplomatic language, that it takes two to make peace. We are at war with the ideology, associated with but perhaps not part of Islam, represented by the use of force, especially government force, to enforce Islam, which ideology and reality is rampant in the Islamic world.
(tbc)

Whit said...

3. True I suppose. But the Monroe doctrine kept these nations free from Europe for at least a century. My complaint is his failure, at the same event, to stand up for America as it was attacked by other leaders. Rather than defend the Bay of Pigs (even though it failed) as a legitimate attempt to protect the US and restore freedom and the rule of law to Cuba, he deflected blame personally by saying it happened before his watch.

4. OK I don't know why that was on the list. I suppose it was a backhanded swipe at GWB for supposedly not trying to build a partnership on Iraq II. But of course he did try and France, among others, reneged on its promise to support the second resolution when the time came. The Brits and many other nations were involved on our side. Had I been Bush, I would have asked the Security Council for help, not permission. (There, I admitted error.)
(tbc)

Whit said...

5. I may disagree, but it's ok to disagree among ourselves.
6. There may have been exceptions when people went beyond their orders, but I see nothing wrong with Git'mo. In all prior wars we capture and hold POW's (including cooks and drivers) for the duration without lawyers and without habeas. These folks, as by definition unlawful combatants, have far less rights than POWs. The enhanced interrogations are not in violation of any treaty to which we are a party, were used sparingly and for the purpose of gaining intelligence, and come no where near what I would consider torture.
7. I'm not sure of the context here. If he was talking to the Turks about Armenia and the Kurds, this makes sense, though I don't think lecturing the Turks about Armenia is a good thing. Otherwise, why bring this up in this context? Turkey has no part in this discussion.

Whit said...

8. I agree completely with this short phrase, although again I don't know the context. This has been true under many administrations, including this one. I disagree with Mac in that Latin America is a key, but often neglected region for us. Our disengagement helped lead to the rise of Chavez.
9. This was supposed to be a pep talk and it fell flat. But again, this is internal and not something said to a foreign government.
10. See 6 above.
(tbc)

Whit said...

In a broader sense American foreign policy has always been a blend of realpolitik and idealism which has often been hard to balance and reconcile.

I thought GWB failed to construct well-reasoned defenses of what we were doing (although David Rivkin, among others did so). BO seems not to think we have any. Were I in their place restoring America's belief and confidence in itself as a culture and as a civilization, would be my first priority. That does not mean that we are perfect, just better than all the rest. And that includes reminding ourselves, and the world, of our unparalled accomplishments, and those of Western Civilization in general. It includes extolling the virtues of democracy and economic freedom. It also includes reminding the world, time and again, of the fact that the Saudis do not allow churches, that the Iranians stone people to death for adultery (including a graphic portrait of what that means) and rape young women before they are hanged because Islamic law says you can’t execute a virgin, that Cuba puts people in horrible prisons for opposing Castro, that Chavez is supporting Marxist narco-traffickers in Columbia, etc. And lastly, I would state clearly what we are doing in our own defense, and why. I would also ask Congress to join me in constructing a new legal framework for fighting these kinds of wars, which framework gives the advantage to civilization rather than trying to level the playing field with barbarians. This framework could then become the model for a new article in the Geneva accords.

Upon reflection, I think I am less distressed about an occasional apology than I am about the failure to emphasize the positive about American Exceptionalism. I remain distressed that we joined the UN human rights commission or whatever it’s called now where some of the worst human rights violators are allowed to judge civilized nations.

There is nothing wrong with America judging our own actions. That is, in part, why we have elections. Other civilized nations may even have a reciprocal part in the discussion. But we should be judged in context, and against the same scale as applied to the rest of the world. And the pond scum of the world, the Mullahs, the Castros, the Chavez’s, have no part in this. To them, there is nothing for which we have to apologize.

Whit said...

In a broader sense American foreign policy has always been a blend of realpolitik and idealism which has often been hard to balance and reconcile.

I thought GWB failed to construct well-reasoned defenses of what we were doing (although David Rivkin, among others did so). BO seems not to think we have any. Were I in their place restoring America's belief and confidence in itself as a culture and as a civilization, would be my first priority. That does not mean that we are perfect, just better than all the rest. And that includes reminding ourselves, and the world, of our unparalled accomplishments, and those of Western Civilization in general. It includes extolling the virtues of democracy and economic freedom. It also includes reminding the world, time and again, of the fact that the Saudis do not allow churches, that the Iranians stone people to death for adultery (including a graphic portrait of what that means) and rape young women before they are hanged because Islamic law says you can’t execute a virgin, that Cuba puts people in horrible prisons for opposing Castro, that Chavez is supporting Marxist narco-traffickers in Columbia, etc. And lastly, I would state clearly what we are doing in our own defense, and why. I would also ask Congress to join me in constructing a new legal framework for fighting these kinds of wars, which framework gives the advantage to civilization rather than trying to level the playing field with barbarians. This framework could then become the model for a new article in the Geneva accords.

Whit said...

Upon reflection, I think I am less distressed about an occasional apology than I am about the failure to emphasize the positive about American Exceptionalism. I remain distressed that we joined the UN human rights commission or whatever it’s called now where some of the worst human rights violators are allowed to judge civilized nations.

There is nothing wrong with America judging our own actions. That is, in part, why we have elections. Other civilized nations may even have a reciprocal part in the discussion. But we should be judged in context, and against the same scale as applied to the rest of the world. And the pond scum of the world, the Mullahs, the Castros, the Chavez’s, have no part in this. To them, there is nothing for which we have to apologize.

Whit said...

I don't want to monopolize this conversation, but Obama's Iraq speech was a perfect example of Obama's approach to foreign policy. He never said "we won" or referred to our "victory". He barely touched on our accomplishments, or the evil of the dictator we deposed, or the fact that our global enemy suffered a massive defeat in Iraq. Rather than winning the war, we "ended" it.

Perhaps he should watch Aragorn's speech to the troops at the end of The Return of the King a few times, or listen to Churchill's war time speeches. We don't need to "turn the page". We need to be inspired to hold out for victory in the "Long War."

Gruntled said...

"It is nice to be admired and respected. It is better to be feared and respected."

No, it is not. Fear makes the world worse. There are, of course, true dangers in the world. We should be strong enough to resist them, if we can. But putting fear into others makes them worse.

Gruntled said...

"Upon reflection, I think I am less distressed about an occasional apology than I am about the failure to emphasize the positive about American Exceptionalism."

Agreed.

Gruntled said...

"our global enemy suffered a massive defeat in Iraq."

Our global enemy is Al Qaeda. They did not suffer a defeat in Iraq. On the contrary, we removed one of their enemies, and created the field for "Al Qaeda in Iraq" to grow.

Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator. I believe President Clinton would have been within his rights to have used force in inspecting for weapons in Iraq, which might, indeed, have led to the coalition removing Hussein. Or at least we would have known clearly that they had no weapons of mass destruction after 9/11, and thus not had the pretext for the massive distraction from the real war against the real enemy, which we still have to win.