Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Apologies or Regrets? Weakness or Strength?

Yesterday, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were hosted on The View in a wonderful interview.  I mean, not even Elizabeth was able to spoil it with her twisted little right wing question.  I’ve seen them both there several times, but this is the first time they’ve both been on simultaneously.  Each time, they’ve been warm, likable, and feel as honest as one can be.  You can hardly keep from liking them when its over, especially when they’re talking about the kids!

So, they’re there, and each of the ladies of The View are taking turns asking questions.  The subject turns to the Middle East and the recent ugliness there sparked by the anti-muslim film.  The President gave a good answer, but while he spoke, it sparked something I’d like to talk about.

He mentioned the protests this past week supporting the US and telling the militias to get out of town.  Now, those protests have been the subject of a lot of right wing political talk on Facebook since they happened, almost always saying something like, “Go, Libyans!  Throw the bums out!” and such.

Good sentiments, and yes, I’d like to see more of that - regular people getting mad at the extremists and telling them to bug off.  But I’ve got news for the right wing, and they’re not going to like it.

You know all those regular Libyans who marched last week?  Do you know why?  Because the terrorists killed a man they respected.  Yes, he was an American Ambassador, but that wasn’t why.

They respected him because he helped them.  He stood by them in a time of terrible strife and hardship, representing this country, but doing it in a way that showed he cared.  He didn’t do it just because it was US policy.  He did it because he cared for them as people, and because they needed our help.  Not because it was over a larger policy thing or because of overall American interests.   He did what he did because he gave a damn about them, and they could clearly see that from his actions and his words.

And they loved him for that.

The part the right wing won’t like is that this is Obama’s policy.  He has shown this by making those speeches the right thinks were apologies.  He has told the people of these countries that we respect them as a people, and we respect their culture and regret instances where we seem to show otherwise.

Contrary to what the right thinks, expressing regrets like that isn’t a weakness. It shows strength, and it shows respect.  A weak country, like Iraq under Hussein, can’t apologize, because then it does sound weak.  A small country like that needs to show strength to protect itself from its enemies. A warlord like Hussein cannot show any weakness or his political enemies will eat him alive.

A big country like the US not only shows respect by expressing regrets, but shows strength as well, because doing what, in a small country, would be weakness, a big one shows it isn’t afraid of weakness.  It shows our confidence in our own power and ability to defend our interests that we can express regrets or even an outright apology when someone who works for us (like the military) makes a mistake that insults another country.  Such a gesture goes a long way in mending fences and showing others that we respect them and want to be friendly.

It is fine (and necessary) at times to be seen as strong and forceful when one’s core interests are under attack or being threatened.  To do otherwise would be to invite further attack and eventually, defeat.  But one also cannot be seen as too strong or overbearing.  Forgoing the opportunities to show respect or regret over mistakes is not only terrible diplomacy, but is seen as being arrogant and aloof.

That’s why we employ professional diplomats.  So they can advise us of how to act towards other countries in accordance with their culture and social mores to avoid insult or to show respect.

By showing the people of these countries that we respect them and their culture, and by providing support and assistance when it is needed most, we gain friends in a part of the world where we desperately need them.  The message that Bush tried to send, that we are not at war with Islam, is an important one.  In spite of the attempts of extremists (of both religions) to make this conflict a religious one, the kind of policy that Obama has  followed has borne fruit, proven by the supportive protests in Libya this week.

If we can show the people of the middle east that we support them and not the dictators who have oppressed them for so long, we have a chance to salvage something from the past sixty years and the wreckage of Bush’s misguided war, perhaps laying the groundwork for a future Islam which is more Enlightened than today.

It certainly can't hurt.

Robert Ahrens
The Cybernetic Atheist

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