Thursday, April 26, 2018
News Roundup

Obama made no apology tour

In his speech accepting the Republican nomination for president, Mitt Romney repeated a charge he has made before: that Obama has traveled the world apologizing for America.

"I will begin my presidency with a jobs tour. President Obama began with an apology tour. America, he said, had dictated to other nations. No, Mr. President, America has freed other nations from dictators," Romney said.

We first fact-checked this claim back in 2010, when Romney published a book, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. We found the claim to be wildly inaccurate then and wildly inaccurate now.

We looked at the seven separate speeches Romney mentioned in his book as apologies.

At times, Obama uses an on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand formulation that he tends to employ right before he talks about two sides coming together.

At a town hall meeting in France in 2009, for example, Obama encouraged Europe to work with the United States, and admitted that the United States "has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive." But he immediately said that Europe has been guilty of a "casual" and "insidious" anti-Americanism.

At a major address to the United Nations, Obama said, "I took office at a time when many around the world had come to view America with skepticism and distrust. Part of this was due to misperceptions and misinformation about my country. Part of this was due to opposition to specific policies, and a belief that on certain critical issues, America has acted unilaterally, without regard for the interests of others. And this has fed an almost reflexive anti-Americanism, which too often has served as an excuse for collective inaction."

At a speech in Cairo on relations between the United States and the Islamic world, Obama got very close to regretting decades-old U.S. actions in Iran. But then he immediately countered with criticism of Iran. He did not make a formal expression of regret, but suggested both countries simply "move forward."

Looking back at those 2009 speeches, we noticed that Obama was most conciliatory when discussing torture and detention at the U.S. military installation at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Typically, Obama would say that the United States must always stay true to its ideals, and that's why Obama "unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year."

During our original reporting, we quizzed several experts about whether Obama had apologized. Here's a brief recap of what they had to say:

• Nile Gardiner, a foreign policy analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation, said Obama was definitely apologizing. He co-wrote an analysis on the topic: "Barack Obama's Top 10 Apologies: How the President Has Humiliated a Superpower."

"Apologizing for your own country projects an image of weakness before both allies and enemies," Gardiner said. "It sends a very clear signal that the U.S. is to blame for some major developments on the world stage. This can be used to the advantage of those who wish to undermine American global leadership."

• John Murphy, a communications professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, studies presidential rhetoric and political language. He said Obama used conciliatory language for diplomatic purposes, not apologizing.

"It's much more a sense of establishing of reciprocity," Murphy said. "Each side says, okay, we haven't done great, but we have a new president and we're going to make a fresh start and move forward. I don't think that's an apology."

• Lauren Bloom, an attorney and business consultant, wrote the book, The Art of the Apology, advising businesses and individuals on when to apologize and how to do it.

She said Obama's words fell short of an apology, mostly because he didn't use the words "sorry" or "regret." "I think to make an effective apology, the words 'I'm sorry' or 'we're sorry' always have to be there," Bloom said.

• We spoke with Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann, a professor who tracked human rights issues via the website Political Apologies and Reparations. Many of the apologies in the database relate to genocide or slavery.

"To say the United States will not torture is not an apology, it is a statement of intent," Howard-Hassman said. "A complete apology has to acknowledge something was wrong, accept responsibility, express sorrow or regret and promise not to repeat it."

Obama's Cairo address in particular was a means of reaching out to the Islamic world, not an acknowledgement of wrongdoing, she said.

"Whether he's apologizing or not, he's saying 'I respect your society and I respect your customs.' Maybe that's what Romney considers an apology, that gesture of respect," she said. "But a gesture of respect is not an apology."

In the years since we first looked into this matter, Obama or someone in his administration has formally apologized for U.S. actions. In 2012, Obama apologized for the accidental burning of copies of the Koran, the holy book of Islam. A few months later, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton apologized to Pakistan for a Nov. 26, 2011, incident involving the death of Pakistani troops.

We should note that these apologies came near the end of Obama's first term, while Romney said Obama "began" his presidency with an apology tour.

Our ruling

Romney said Obama began his presidency "with an apology tour."

But a review of Obama's foreign travels and remarks during his early presidency showed no evidence to support such a blunt and disparaging claim.

While Obama's speeches contained some criticisms of past U.S. actions, he typically combined those passages with praise for the United States and its ideals, and he frequently mentioned how other countries had erred as well.

Calling those remarks "an apology tour" is a ridiculous charge. So we rate his statement Pants on Fire.

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