Friday, April 10, 2009

‘Apologizing for America’

Amid the worldwide praise for President Obama's overseas trip, there has also been a steady stream of criticism in the U.S. of some of his recent speeches, such as in this op-ed from The Washington Times, claiming that President Obama is ‘apologizing for America’ and doing a ‘disservice’ to the country.  Some have even said Obama’s language is anti-American.  Here’s an excerpt from the op-ed:

“One of President Obama's first official acts was to grant an interview to Al Arabiya, the Arabic language network that broadcasts worldwide. It signified, aides explained, the new page that Mr. Obama meant to turn in relations with the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Just as he did last week in Europe, Mr. Obama began the conversation by criticizing America. Asked about relations between Israel and the Palestinians and the appointment of George Mitchell as special envoy, Mr. Obama said, ‘what I told [Mr. Mitchell] is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating - in the past on some of these issues - and we don't always know all the factors that are involved. So let's listen.’

Throughout the rest of the interview, Mr. Obama returned again and again to the word ‘respect,’ stressing that his administration - unlike previous American presidents - would base relations with the Muslim world on ‘mutual respect.’

In Europe, the president returned to this leitmotif, telling his audience that ‘there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive’ toward Europe. He went on to note that Europeans had responded with an anti-Americanism that ‘is at once casual but can also be insidious.’ That sounds awfully high-mindedly evenhanded - except that in Mr. Obama's telling, America's arrogance comes first. If that were truly the case, who could blame the Europeans for feeling resentful?”

I think many of these critics fail to understand what public diplomacy is and the fact that the previous administration failed to reach out to the world and practice effective public diplomacy.  President Obama addressing these issues and revealing that the U.S. should engage in a dialogue instead of dictating and conduct diplomacy with mutual respect has been called apologizing for America and showing weakness.

Do you think President Obama is apologizing and showing weakness on the world stage?  Or is he practicing good public diplomacy?


  1. Obama role in apologizing for American action is something that makes sense, given the role of US action in the world in the past. Obviously, with the Bush administration, things were overwhelmingly different and I think that it will take time for America to see the new logic that the United States is following. Public Diplomacy is often about coordinating efforts to engage the public at home as well. Given Obama's popularity, I think that explains why he is mainly concerned with US image abroad. While apologizing for US action might be deemed anti-American, Obama is simply recognizing that the US has made some mistakes on some issues. Without apology, the US stands to forever stand alone in fixing those mistakes. Obviously, that is not something the US needs right now.

  2. I agree. Obama's rhetoric on international trips, media interviews, and outreach efforts like Nowruz are laced with words like 'dialog,' 'listening,' and 'respect.' But he's putting his money where his mouth is: His special envoys of Holbrooke (Pakistan/Afghanistan), Mitchell (Israel/Palestine), and Ross (the Gulf States) began their posts with lengthy listening tours--gaging both facts on the ground and all important climates of foreign public opinion. He has had important dialogs with hemispheric leaders on the periphery of the Summit of the Americas meeting in Trinidad. And he continues to cultivate respect by seeking consensus and compromise--when they directly benefit the U.S. as with the modest European re-commitments to the NATO forces in Afghanistan; and when their strict policy gains are more elusive as in those same European allies' reluctance to develop larger fiscal stimulus packages at the G20.

    That Obama's words may arouse the "My country--right or wrong" response says more about the editorial board of the Washington Times than it does about the merits and early results of the Administration's PD strategy shift from the President on down.