As a Democrat, one of the most aggravating and frustrating things about the last nine years has been listening to conservatives falsely claim that President Barack Obama went on an “apology tour” around the world in 2009 during which they claim he “criticized America” and made the United States look “weak to our enemies.”
I have been thinking a lot about that conservative criticism of Barack Obama since Donald Trump blamed “U.S. foolishness and stupidity” for Russia’s aggressive attacks on our democracy as he yet again took Vladimir Putin’s side against the U.S.
The claim that Obama apologized for America began to take shape shortly after he became president. Karl Rove, former adviser to George W. Bush, wrote an article titled “The President’s Apology Tour” for the Wall Street Journal on April 23, 2009, just three months after Obama was inaugurated.
Rove based his opinion on four quotes made by Obama, writing:
“Mr. Obama told the French (the French!) that America “has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive” toward Europe. In Prague, he said America has “a moral responsibility to act” on arms control because only the U.S. had “used a nuclear weapon.” In London, he said that decisions about the world financial system were no longer made by “just Roosevelt and Churchill sitting in a room with a brandy” — as if that were a bad thing. And in Latin America, he said the U.S. had not “pursued and sustained engagement with our neighbors” because we “failed to see that our own progress is tied directly to progress throughout the Americas.”“
None of those quotes contain an apology or anything similar to it. The Latin American comment was nearly identical to what George W. Bush said in his 2000 campaign. The Prague and London quotes are certainly not apologies, and the Paris quote is taken out of context.
The quote President Obama made in Paris that Rove criticized is, “In America, there’s a failure to appreciate Europe’s leading role in the world. Instead of celebrating your dynamic union and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive. But in Europe, there is an anti-Americanism that is at once casual, but can also be insidious. Instead of recognizing the good that America so often does in the world, there have been times where Europeans choose to blame America for much of what’s bad.”
By June of 2009 the conservative Heritage Foundation began publishing “Barack Obama’s Top 10 Apologies: How the President Has Humiliated a Superpower.”
Their list included Rove’s four accusations as well as other quotes Obama made about slavery, Guantanamo and the war on terrorism. In each of them, Obama expressed disagreement over policy without criticizing or apologizing for the U.S. (It is also worth noting that Obama’s 2008 opponent, Sen. John McCain, said he too would close Guantanamo.)
One quote came from a speech Obama gave in April 2009 to the Turkish parliament. Obama said, “The United States is still working through some of our own darker periods in our history. Facing the Washington Monument that I spoke of is a memorial of Abraham Lincoln, the man who freed those who were enslaved even after Washington led our Revolution.”
(In 2003 George W. Bush gave a speech in Senegal in which he called the U.S. constitution “flawed” and said that America is still troubled by the legacy of slavery. Why would Obama’s comment be considered an “apology” and not Bush’s?)
The final so-called “apology” came in April 2009. When asked by a British reporter if he thought the United States was uniquely qualified to lead the world, Obama responded, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.”
Compare Obama’s statements to Trump calling America and Americans “stupid”, “foolish”, and “losers”, (among other insults) while praising Russia and Putin.
What do those conservatives who have derided Obama for nine years have to say about Trump’s criticisms of America and our national intelligence agencies and his praise of our most dangerous enemy as “strong and powerful” and a “fine man?”
Most of them are dishonest hypocrites who have nothing to say about Trump’s insults to America and praise of Russia.
But Mitt Romney, one of those who spread “the apology tour” lie did say, “President Trump’s decision to side with Putin over American intelligence agencies is disgraceful and detrimental to our democratic principles.”
Not quite as catchy as “the apology tour,” but at least Romney acknowledges that Trump is actually committing the wrongful acts that conservatives falsely accused Barack Obama of doing.
Patsy Sheppard is a retired educator who is active in the Democratic Party.