Obama’s Apology to Afghanistan Was the Right Thing to Do
Sometimes I fantasize about going to live in Rick Santorum’s house.
In this fantasy, I move into the Santorum home uninvited_and with assurances that I’m not there to take over the household, but to help Rick and his wife run things better. I’d get into fights with Rick’s neighbors, start spanking his kids when they disobey me, and maybe even rip out his garden to replace his mustard greens with rhubarb. Rick used to make a lot of money selling mustard greens at the local farmer’s market, but I’m not a fan, so they go.
And in this fantasy, after I’ve considerably overstayed my welcome, I—accidentally!—do something awful: I put Rick’s family Bible down the garbage disposal.
I wonder: Would Rick Santorum expect an apology?
Seems like a no-brainer, right? When you stupidly give offense to your host, the smart thing—the right thing—is to offer an apology and make amends. Unless you’re a Republican. Being Republican, it seems, means never, ever saying “sorry,” no matter how big a mess you’ve made.
Which brings us, of course, to Afghanistan. Last week, it was revealed that American troops in that country burned copies of the Koran—the Muslim holy book—as part of waste-disposal procedures. This is serious business. Afghans began protesting at American bases; U.S. and NATO soldiers were attacked and killed. The whole thing is tragic.
In the face of this mess, President Obama did the sensible thing. He apologized.
Why? Because the mission of U.S. troops in Afghanistan isn’t to trample upon native sensibilities—it’s to hunt terrorists and help the locals build their country so that it never again serves as the base for an attack on the United States. That involves the (tricky) winning of hearts and minds. Treating the Koran with disrespect—even if it’s an accident—actively works against achieving those goals. Apologizing isn’t just the right thing to do, in this case; it’s an act of strategic military necessity.
So, of course, Republicans lined up to criticize the president.
Mitt Romney: “”We’ve made an enormous contribution to help the people there achieve freedom, and for us to be apologizing at a time like this is something which is very difficult for the American people to countenance.”
Newt Gingrich: “He is consistently apologizing to people who do not deserve the apology of the President of the United States period.”
And, of course, Rick Santorum: “This is unacceptable,” Santorum said of the president’s apology. “The idea that a mistake was made—clearly a mistake, which we should not have apologized for—it was a mistake. There was nothing deliberate.” Get that? The United States shouldn’t apologize for mistakes.
Why? Because it demonstrates that Republican presidential candidates are more interested in criticizing President Obama than in helping the troops achieve their mission.
You can’t blame them. The candidates are just reflecting a deeper disease within the GOP. Over the weekend, conservatives on Twitter made sport of both the Koran-burning and the president’s apology with an #ImSorryAfghanistan hashtag that features such gems as “#ImSorryAfghanistan for evolving past the 12th century,” and “#ImSorryAfghanistan for trying to diversify your industry beyond the export of dirt clods.”
How arrogant. How imperialist, really. We’ll invade and occupy your country, and you’ll be grateful for it!
Listen, I’m a gay-loving feminist liberal—there wouldn’t be much room for me in Afghanistan’s culture. Furthermore, America invaded Afghanistan for good reason: The 9/11 attacks originated in that country.
We should remember a couple of things, though: The vast majority of Afghans had nothing to do with the attacks of 9/11. And most Afghans have lived a decade under American occupation. It’s human nature to reject foreign occupation—no matter how seemingly justified, now matter how benevolent and wise it aspires to be. It gets tougher if that foreign occupation heedlessly tramples local sensibilities.
So the rush by Mitt, Rick, and Newt to condemn the president for apologizing isn’t just contemptible: It’s dangerous and juvenile. It signals that all three men see the world as a series of cartoon caricatures, that they are bullies who demand respect but believe that giving respect means showing weakness. Maybe Republicans won’t ever apologize for America—but all that proves is that they are very sorry, indeed.