The XX Factor

Soledad O’Brien Asks, “What Apologies Are You Specifically Talking About?’

Peter King not apologizing to our enemies.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Soledad O’Brien asks Rep. Peter King to name an apology Barack Obama has made:

O’Brien: “Where do you see an apology? You called it an apology tour. You said, ‘the apologies.’ What apologies are you specifically talking about?”

King: “I would say when he was in Cairo in 2009, when he was basically apologizing for American policies, saying American policies sometimes had gone too far.”

O’ Brien: “Never once in that speech, as you know, which I have the speech right here, he never once used the word apology. He never once said, ‘I’m sorry.’”

King: “Any logical reading of that speech or the speech he gave in France, in which he said the United States can be too aggressive.”

O’Brien: “But that’s not apology.”

Truly, this is a bizarre conversation to be having this Monday morning. Someone makes an offensive video, protests grow violent, a diplomat dies, a man who wants to be president says something calculated. The conversation turns, improbably, to whether vague remarks Barack Obama made in 2009 qualify as apologetic. These remarks are taken to be responsible, in a way not fully articulated, for the violence. Thus the question is not of any particular policy, but in what spirit that policy is undertaken. Here is The New York Times delicately suggesting some other sources of unrest:

Others said that the outpouring of outrage against the video had built up over a long period of perceived denigrations of Muslims and their faith by the United States or its military, which are detailed extensively in the Arab news media: the invasion of Iraq on a discredited pretext; the images of abuse from the Abu Ghraib prison; the burning or desecrations of the Koran by troops in Afghanistan and a pastor in Florida; detentions without trial at Guantánamo Bay; the denials of visas to prominent Muslim intellectuals; the deaths of Muslim civilians as collateral damage in drone strikes; even political campaigns against the specter of Islamic law inside the United States.

In the alternate world of promises kept Romney is attacking Obama for the closure of Guantanamo. That Guantanamo is still open enough to drive men to suicide, and we are discussing instead the semantic dimensions of the word “apology,” suggests the Obama administration has moved so far Bush-ward that Romney can only critique him on style. When you do all the various things the Obama administration is already doing, Romney suggests, you must do them more unapologetically. What does a noninterventionist voter do in this situation? Should you choose the man who interferes and asks for absolution, or the man who interferes with aplomb? Of course, Obama doesn’t actually apologize, so the choice isn’t as stark as it seems. At The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf reflects on how nascent any conversation about disengagement really is. “Unpredictability is terrifying,” Friedersdorf says. Be comforted then, because it may be that the only option you have is more of the same.