The Apology Tour: What’s the Point?

At Contentions, Peter Wehner makes some excellent points about Barack Obama’s world-wide apology tour:

[W]hat Obama has engaged in is more than an “occasional confession”; apology is, in fact, a centerpiece of his approach. He has spent an unprecedented amount of time as President giving voice to grievances of both allies and adversaries over America. And when he’s not himself confirming those criticisms, he is showing himself less than eager to respond to them.

Obama has explained the strategy behind his constant bad-mouthing of America:

What it does mean, though, is, at the margins, they are more likely to want to cooperate than not cooperate. It means that where there is resistance to a particular set of policies that we’re pursuing, that resistance may turn out just to be based on old preconceptions or ideological dogmas that, when they’re cleared away, it turns out that we can actually solve a problem.

Wehner sums up:

President Obama appears to be making a bet that his personal charm and reticence in defending America against those who are disparaging her will redound to our benefit, that his approach will win the confidence of leaders long antagonistic to America and its values, and that in the end his apology tour will lead to greater cooperation in advancing justice and American ideals.

At the same time, Obama has been quick to dismiss any suggestion that his cozying up to dictators could have adverse consequences. Thus, when asked about the wisdom of his friendly embrace of Hugo Chavez, Obama answered:

It’s unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States.

But Obama can’t have it both ways. His whole apology strategy is based on the premise that leaders of other countries will respond to his submissive attitude and will act differently than if he had followed his predecessors’ approach. Thus, he can’t respond to criticism by suggesting that his overtures are insignificant and will have no consequences.

I think it’s true that Obama’s apologetic approach will have consequences. The question is, will those consequences be good or bad? Wehner reminds us of the sad history of John Kennedy’s disastrous encounter with Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna; history suggests that an attitude of submissive weakness is not one that brings out the best in bloodthirsty dictators.

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