When I was growing up I learned early that apologies cost you nothing, and help to maintain relationships. When a classmate bumped into me on the playground, I’d automatically apologize, “Sorry, excuse me,” even if I didn’t think it was my fault. A quick apology buys time to reconsider the facts and whether there’s really a problem or not. And when I was the one at fault, of course an apology was easily made.
So it struck me as peculiar to hear Rick Santorum, interviewed on ABC’s “This Week”, criticizing President Obama for apologizing for the Koran burnings by American troops in Afghanistan. It was a real mistake, so it seemed obvious to me that the President should be apologizing on America’s behalf. The interviewer, George Stephanopoulos, was stunned by Santorum’s answer, and kept asking if he really meant that the President should not have apologized for the mistaken burning of holy books.
Although acknowledging that the Koran burning was a mistake, Santorum seemed to be saying that because it was not intended as a religious insult, no apology by the U.S. was called for. Newt Gingrich called President Obama’s apology “an outrage” and “a surrender”. Mitt Romney, who has repeatedly denounced President Obama for “apologizing for America”, says his apology for the Koran burning “sticks in the throats” of many Americans. Is that true?
Those comments by themselves ought to be disqualifiers for anyone aspiring to be President. No one with such a predisposition against apologizing for obvious mistakes should be considered for a position holding the powers of war and peace, life and death. Those are comments we might expect of fatherless boys who grew up without male role models, and with unrealistic ideas of manliness which demand respect at all times from everyone.
They are also culturally obtuse. In effect, “We know what we were thinking, and we don’t care how our actions are viewed in other cultures.” It is disturbing that after a decade of war in Afghanistan, our military evidently hasn’t heard that Korans shouldn’t be burned with the trash.
At least President George W. Bush apologized for the repulsive prison abuses at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, even though he could never bring himself to apologize for actually launching the invasion of Iraq on the false assertion that Iraq threatened us with weapons of mass destruction. Santorum, Romney, and Gingrich are no George W. Bush. They have a stronger aversion to apologies and would never have apologized even for Abu Ghraib.