Where’s a Presidential Apology When You Need One?

(Article first published as Where’s a Presidential Apology When You Need One? on Blogcritics.) President Obama was excoriated for last month’s apology to Afghan President Karzai after several copies of the Koran were inadvertently burned. This type of criticism is nothing knew. Obama has been disparaged for years for apologizing for America. His speech in Berlin during the 2008 presidential campaign earned him one of the earliest censures. It was followed by the much-maligned 2009 “apology tour” of several continents during which Obama found plenty of fault with America’s past.

The President’s rebukes have been uttered in Ankara, London, Prague, Cairo, Strasbourg, Trinidad and Washington D.C., among other places. In these appearances, Obama criticized America for committing a whole host of misdeeds. Among them are slavery, mistreatment of Native Americans, the global financial crisis, nuclear weapons, global warming, practicing self-interest, being dismissive and derisive of our allies and arrogance.

While Obama’s denouncements were well received by the international community, many in this country resented them. So, critics viewed Obama’s letter to Karzai after last month’s Koran burning as just another apology by a president too eager to utter them.

But, that critical assessment is wrong. Obama has never actually apologized for America at all, not even to Karzai for the Koran burning incident. His earlier remarks amounted to admissions and condemnations, but they were never apologetic. Read in context, Obama’s statements are simply Obama being Obama. In most cases, he is ponderously critical, not just of America, but of the nations of his audience as well. His disparaging assessments come with utopian instructions on how countries must change in order to live in Obama’s future.

As far as the apology to Karzai is concerned, it was about as sincere as Rush Limbaugh’s mea culpa to Sandra Fluke. Obama’s intent was damage control. He wanted to save American lives and to minimize other predictable adverse consequences. For all the good it did. Afghanis killed six Americans and claimed another thirty lives in violent riots that continued for several days after the burning was reported. Regardless, apologies given to limit negative outcomes are not apologies at all.

When the riots in Afghanistan were in full force, the Defense Department announced that the remains of an undisclosed number of 9/11 victims were desecrated. The bodies of 9/11 victims were processed at the military mortuary at Dover Air Force Base.  Until 2008, unidentifiable remains from the Pentagon attack and the plane crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania were reduced to ashes and dumped in a landfill.

A defense contractor burned the remains and put them in the refuse dump. While incineration is standard procedure at the base, dumping is not. And there is no indication that military personnel were aware that it occurred. They mistakenly assumed that nothing survives incineration. (These folks must be truly stumped over the market for cremation urns.)

The story didn’t get a lot of press and even less reaction from the White House. Obama himself has said nothing about it at all despite the obvious similarities with the latest Koran incident. Through poor judgment, the books were burned and dumped in a landfill on base. Afghani workers discovered the charred remnants. Through utter disregard for oversight and decency, the 9/11 remains were incinerated and discarded in a garbage heap. The years-long actions were discovered during a whistleblower-triggered investigation into allegations of mismanagement at the mortuary.

As Commander In Chief, Obama sent his regrets to Karzai for a mistake committed by troops on foreign soil. But, we’re still waiting for his apology about the misdeeds of a base under his command in this country.

Why did the President treat the incidences so differently? In a word, politics. With the Koran burning, Obama leveraged an opportunity to appear presidential in sending his regrets. And, most Americans agree with that decision.

But, Obama gains no benefit at all in highlighting yet another 9/11-related tragedy through an apology or otherwise. Considering the public response to his pro Ground Zero Mosque stance, Obama wants to keep 9/11 out of the mix of issues this election year. It may not be a bad political strategy, but it is far from presidential. Or honest.

On the day the 9/11 story broke, Obama was in Washington D.C. He spoke at a UAW conference, ate lunch with Joe Biden and took a couple of briefings. He had ample time to consider and respond to the shock and pain of the 9/11 families and of the country as a whole. Where is an actual presidential apology when you need one?

See you on the left-side.