Saturday, March 3, 2012

Obama: Please Apologize for Burning American Credibility

“Don’t apologize. Your enemies won’t believe it and your friends don’t need to hear it.” --Bumper sticker

By Barry Rubin

It should be obvious by now that President Barack Obama and his administration don’t know some basic things about the conduct of international relations. The apology to Afghanistan affair is an example of this problem but not quite in the way that the debate over it posits.

Now it is being reported that five U.S. soldiers and an Afghan interpreter are going to be charged with burning the books. If this happens, not only will these hapless soldiers who had no idea they were doing anything wrong have their careers ruined, and might face prison time, but they will have the possibility for the rest of their lives that Islamist terrorists will come after them. As for the Afghan interpreter and his family, the odds of their being murdered are very high.

The way the story has been reported--though much of the mass media has not mentioned the initial cause of the problem--is as follows. Some Taliban prisoners were writing secret messages in their Korans to pass back and forth. The books were confiscated and in order that the messages not go any further someone ordered something and these Korans were burned. I don't know the true details of this incident.

So far more than two dozen people have died, riots have proliferated, several U.S. soldiers were murdered, and Obama apologized for the destruction of the Korans. Powerful, mainstream Afghan clerics have stated that no apology can suffice and calling for the killing of some low-ranking American soldiers who were handed some books, told to get rid of them, and did so. 

On Obama’s side, the president said that the apology had cooled things down. This was demonstrably untrue as the turmoil was continuing. And there is no proof at all—an important point—that his apology soothed anyone.
The critics said that instead of the United States apologizing to Afghanistan, Afghanistan should apologize to the United States for the ensuing violence.

Let’s examine this in realpolitik terms rather than as a manual of etiquette would do it.

To my knowledge, no Middle Eastern government, other than Israel, has ever apologized for anything. For example, the Afghan government never has, and never will, apologize for that country’s role in the September 11 attacks on the United States. Equally, no Middle Eastern government, other than Israel, expresses gratitude, a point that applies to Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, and Libya in response to the U.S. role in helping to “liberate” them from foreign occupation and dreadful dictators.  And what about the Palestinian Authority giving thanks for billions of dollars of aid and all the diplomatic support the United States has given? Nope again.

On the contrary, the "chip on shoulder" mentality remains. It's even worse than a view of help and aid as an entitlement but rather a strong tendency to deny that any help or aid has ever been given at all. And this quickly goes over to the claim that help and aid are just conspiracies. We are already seeing this in Egypt.   

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