Apology Derangement Syndrome

All you have to do is go back to George W. Bush's presidency to see that -- gasp! -- presidents apologizewhen America does something wrong, or stupid, or both.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

While everyone knew that the Republican primary candidates would all be displaying plenty of "Obama Derangement Syndrome" during the campaign, this week the rhetoric took a bizarre tangent which might be called "Apology Derangement Syndrome." The concept is not only laughable, it is easy to prove what rampant and stinking hypocrisy those espousing it are truly guilty of displaying.

First, the facts of this tempest in a teacup (at the Mad Hatter Tea Party which the GOP primary process has devolved into). In Afghanistan, a Quran was burned in a trash-burning pit. Details are sketchy, but at least one Quran (possibly others, possibly other Islamic religious books as well) was at least partially burned. Details have not been forthcoming from the military, but apparently someone in charge of the library for Afghani prisoners decided to take these books away from the prisoners, possibly because the prisoners were breaking the rules by either communicating (by writing in them) or spreading jihadi slogans. Whatever the reason, the person responsible ordered that the books be disposed of. Trash is commonly burned on the base, and nobody apparently thought twice about tossing the books on the "burn pile." When the people doing the actual trash-burning threw them on the fire, Afghan workers noticed and put a stop to it. Those are the facts, such as they are. The U.S. military is investigating the incident, so perhaps more solid details will emerge in the future.

President Barack Obama then did what any United States president would do in such a situation: he apologized to Hamid Karzai, the leader of Afghanistan.

The Republican candidates (who are not named "Ron Paul") saw this as a political hot button, and immediately denounced Obama's apology. Newt Gingrich was pithiest, calling Obama an "appeaser" and stating "It is Hamid Karzai who owes the American people an apology, not the other way around."

Obama Derangement Syndrome is, of course, the knee-jerk opposing reaction to anything the president says or does -- no matter what. It can be summed up as the attitude that "Everything is Obama's fault. Everything." But the "Apology Derangement Syndrome" strain that's going around is quite easy to defeat. All you have to do is go back to George W. Bush's presidency to see that -- gasp! -- presidents apologize all the time when America does something wrong, or stupid, or both.

A quick check on Lexis Nexis reveals 210 articles written during Bush's time in office which use the phrase "Bush apologizes." Now, many (if not most) of these articles are written about demands from outside groups (foreign and domestic) who were calling on Bush to apologize for one thing or another, so just looking at the numbers isn't sufficient.

What also must be ignored are stories where President Bush was offering up personal apologies for his own behavior -- such as "Bush apologizes for not taking Laura to India's Taj Mahal," from March of 2006; or "Bush apologizes after telling blind reporter 'I'm interested in the shade, look, seriously' " when the president, in June of the same year, teased a member of the press for wearing sunglasses when it wasn't all that bright out.

This leaves us with the list of Bush apologies to foreign nations (or heads of state) for international incidents caused by the United States (mostly, the American military). The first of these occurred almost immediately after Bush took office, in February of 2001, when George W. Bush apologized to the Japanese prime minister for a joyriding captain of a U.S. submarine who was impressing his guests by surfacing the sub quickly -- which, tragically, destroyed and sunk a Japanese fishing vessel which happened to be occupying the same piece of ocean. Fishermen's lives were lost. Bush apologized, as everyone expected him to.

The second big apology was forced out of Bush -- that's right, forced out of a United States president -- by China. This was due to an incident involving a U.S. spyplane and a Chinese fighter pilot, that killed the Chinese pilot. The spyplane was forced to land in China, who promptly demanded an apology from Bush. Bush resisted, and really didn't want to apologize, but realized after many days that it was the only way we were going to get the spyplane's crew repatriated to America. He wrote a letter which used the words "very sorry" twice, and the crew was released. Bush, in this case, really didn't have any other option than apologizing.

In 2002, Bush apologized to foreign leaders twice, once to Canada for a friendly fire incident which killed Canadian soldiers, and once to South Korea when an American armored vehicle ran over and killed four Korean schoolgirls. In neither case was the apology contentious politically in America, because it was seen as the right and proper thing for Bush to do.

The biggest and most sustained apology the Bush administration was forced into was over the notorious Abu Graib photos, which surfaced in May of 2004. Bush again resisted the calls for apology for a few days, but then apologized personally during a visit by King Abdullah of Jordan. Other Bush administration officials would wind up apologizing for the Abu Graib photos for months to come.

In 2006, Bush issued one non-controversial apology, to Tony Blair for shipping bombs through air bases in the U.K. (which was very contentious in Scotland at the time). This didn't receive much press in America, though.

In the last year of Bush's term, he personally apologized to the same man that Barack Obama just did -- Hamid Karzai, leader of Afghanistan. At the time, Bush was apologizing for civilian deaths. I don't remember Republicans badmouthing this apology, at the time.

Two Bush apologies really stand out, though. The first was a personal apology. From the Washington Post of September 1, 2007 comes an article titled "Bush Apologizes to Wiccan Soldier's Widow for Meeting Slip-Up":

President Bush has apologized to the widow of a Wiccan soldier after she was excluded from a Nevada meeting this week that the president held with the families of soldiers killed in combat.

Roberta Stewart, whose husband, Sgt. Patrick Stewart, was killed in Afghanistan in 2005, was left off the invitation list for the private meeting Tuesday even though other members of her husband's family were invited.

When she heard about the exclusion from her mother-in-law, Stewart said, she concluded that it was done because of her public fight to force the federal government to engrave the symbol for the Wiccan faith on her husband's marker on a memorial.

"I was devastated," Stewart said. "I was crying and upset. I couldn't believe that my country would continue this discrimination."

Now for just one tiny nanosecond, let's all imagine what Republicans would be saying now if President Obama had (as they would surely put it): "apologized to a witch!" Just picture in your mind the fury which Republican candidates would unleash upon Obama if that had been him instead of Bush.

But the most relevant Bush apology to the current debate happened in May, 2008, when President Bush (are you sitting down, Mitt and Rick and Newt?) apologized for an American soldier mistreating a Quran. Here's the full story:

The U.S. military said Sunday that it had disciplined the sniper and removed him from Iraq after he was found to have used Islam's holy book for target practice May 9 in a predominantly Sunni area west of Baghdad. The book was found two days later by Iraqis on a firing range in Radwaniyah with 14 bullet holes in it and graffiti written on its pages, tribal leaders said.

Similar perceived insults against Islam in Europe and elsewhere have sparked violent protests, and American officials appeared eager to contain the outrage.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite, told Bush of the "disappointment and anger of the people and government of Iraq over the soldier's disgraceful action," according to a statement from his office.

Al-Maliki's office said Bush told the prime minister that the sniper would face trial, but Perino did not say whether Bush made such a promise. Military officials have not spoken of any further action against the soldier, who has not been identified.

Where were the Republican howls of outrage over Bush doing exactly what Obama just did in the exact same circumstances, one wonders. What did Mitt, Rick, and Newt have to say about it? Nothing. Where was their outrage? Silent. When a member of their own political party apologized to the leader of a country for Koran desecration by Americans in uniform, Republicans had no problem with it.

One wonders what happened to Republicans venerating the advice of the "generals on the ground," as well. Generals on the ground, in the GOP way of thinking, always have to be listened to. Where is one single American general agreeing with the Republicans that Obama shouldn't have apologized? When Bush apologized for the Koran shooting, an American officer "kissed a copy" of the Koran before he presented it to local Iraqis, as a way of apologizing. Again, what would Republicans now be saying if this had just happened in Afghanistan? Because Bush was in the White House, Republicans had nothing to say on the matter.

When Barack Obama does the same thing Bush did four years ago, however, all sorts of nasty things are said about him by prominent Republicans. Apology Derangement Syndrome seems to be erasing Republicans' memory. They've made such a honking big deal out of Obama's apology that the news media has jumped on the story and continues to push it.

Of course, all of these "journalists" have the same access to the Lexis Nexis site which I have. Searching for these stories isn't all that hard to do. I'm sure that every other president in modern history has made similar apologies at some point while they were in office, I merely used George W. Bush as the handiest of examples to show what hypocrisy and selective outrage Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich are currently displaying.

To put it another way: this story wasn't all that hard to research and write. One wonders why the overpaid folks in the mainstream media haven't done the same research. Especially on that Quran-shooting story.

Chris Weigant blogs at:

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Become a fan of Chris on The Huffington Post

Popular in the Community