Barack Obama began his presidency "with an apology tour."
Mitt Romney on Thursday, August 30th, 2012 in remarks at the Republican National Convention in Tampa
Mitt Romney said Barack Obama began his presidency with an apology tour
In his speech accepting the Republican nomination for president, Mitt Romney repeated a charge he’s made before: that Obama has traveled the world apologizing for America.
"I will begin my presidency with a jobs tour. President Obama began with an apology tour. America, he said, had dictated to other nations. No, Mr. President, America has freed other nations from dictators," Romney said.
We first fact-checked this claim back in 2010, when Romney published a book, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness.
Obama’s apology tour, Romney wrote, "is his way of signaling to foreign countries and foreign leaders that their dislike for America is something he understands and that is, at least in part, understandable. There are anti-American fires burning all across the globe; President Obama's words are like kindling to them."
"In his first nine months in office, President Obama has issued apologies and criticisms of America in speeches in France, England, Turkey, and Cairo; at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and the United Nations in New York City. He has apologized for what he deems to be American arrogance, dismissiveness, and derision; for dictating solutions, for acting unilaterally, and for acting without regard for others; for treating other countries as mere proxies, for unjustly interfering in the internal affairs of other nations, and for feeding anti-Muslim sentiments; for committing torture, for dragging our feet on global warming and for selectively promoting democracy."
It’s a common theme for some anti-Obama websites and commentators. But is it accurate?
Obama’s early travels and remarks
We looked at the seven separate speeches Romney mentioned in his book as apologies. (We've compiled those passages in a separate document.)
At times, Obama uses an on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand formulation that he tends to employ right before he talks about two sides coming together.
At a town hall meeting in France in 2009, for example, Obama encouraged Europe to work with the United States, and admitted that the United States "has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive." But he immediately said that Europe has been guilty of a "casual" and "insidious" anti-Americanism.
At a major address to the United Nations, Obama said, "I took office at a time when many around the world had come to view America with skepticism and distrust. Part of this was due to misperceptions and misinformation about my country. Part of this was due to opposition to specific policies, and a belief that on certain critical issues, America has acted unilaterally, without regard for the interests of others. And this has fed an almost reflexive anti-Americanism, which too often has served as an excuse for collective inaction."
At a speech in Cairo on relations between the U.S. and the Islamic world, Obama got very close to regretting decades-old U.S. actions in Iran. But then he immediately countered with criticism of Iran. He did not make a formal expression of regret, but suggested both countries simply "move forward."
Looking back at those 2009 speeches, we noticed that Obama was most conciliatory when discussing torture and detention at the U.S. military installation at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Typically, Obama would say that the U.S. must always stay true to its ideals, and that's why Obama "unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year."
Apologies -- or diplomatic language?
In 2010, we quizzed several experts about whether Obama had apologized. Here’s a brief recap of what they had to say (read more here):
• Nile Gardiner, a foreign policy analyst with the the conservative Heritage Foundation, said Obama was definitely apologizing. He co-wrote an analysis on the topic: "Barack Obama's Top 10 Apologies: How the President Has Humiliated a Superpower."
"Apologizing for your own country projects an image of weakness before both allies and enemies," Gardiner said. "It sends a very clear signal that the U.S. is to blame for some major developments on the world stage. This can be used to the advantage of those who wish to undermine American global leadership."
• John Murphy, a communications professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, studies presidential rhetoric and political language. He said Obama used conciliatory language for diplomatic purposes, not apologizing.
"It's much more a sense of establishing of reciprocity," Murphy said. "Each side says, okay, we haven't done great, but we have a new president and we're going to make a fresh start and move forward. I don't think that's an apology."
• Lauren Bloom, an attorney and business consultant, wrote the book, The Art of the Apology, advising businesses and individuals on when to apologize and how to do it.
She said Obama's words fell short of an apology, mostly because he didn't use the words "sorry" or "regret." "I think to make an effective apology, the words 'I'm sorry' or 'we're sorry' always have to be there," Bloom said.
Obama's remarks were really non-apologies, and they're not good in business or personal relationships, Bloom said. The one area where they can be useful: international diplomacy.
"Gov. Romney is trying to appeal to the inner John Wayne of his readers, and that has a certain emotional appeal," Bloom said. "For the rest of us, a level assessment of less-than-perfect human behavior is perfectly reasonable."
• We spoke with Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann, a professor who tracked international human rights issues via the website Political Apologies and Reparations. Many of the apologies in the database relate to genocide or slavery.
"To say the United States will not torture is not an apology, it is a statement of intent," Howard-Hassman said. "A complete apology has to acknowledge something was wrong, accept responsibility, express sorrow or regret and promise not to repeat it."
Obama's Cairo address in particular was a means of reaching out to the Islamic world, not an acknowledgement of wrongdoing, she said.
"Whether he's apologizing or not, he's saying 'I respect your society and I respect your customs.' Maybe that's what Romney considers an apology, that gesture of respect," she said. "But a gesture of respect is not an apology."
In the years since we first looked into this matter, Obama or someone in his administration has formally apologized for U.S. actions. In 2012, Obama apologized for the accidental burning of copies of the Quran, the holy book of Islam. Obama sent the apology in a letter to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Officials hoped the formal apology would quell violent reactions against U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
A few months later, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apologized to Pakistan for a Nov. 26, 2011, incident involving the death of Pakistani troops. The apology was made as part of an effort to re-open supply routes to U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
We should note that these apologies came toward the end of Obama’s first term, while Romney said Obama "began" his presidency with an apology tour.
Romney said Obama began his presidency "with an apology tour."
But a review of Obama’s foreign travels and remarks during his early presidency showed no evidence to support such a blunt and disparaging claim. (In later years, we found two formal apologies, but they were not at the start of his presidency and not part of a tour.)
While Obama's speeches contained some criticisms of past U.S. actions, he typically combined those passages with praise for the United States and its ideals, and he frequently mentioned how other countries had erred as well. We found not a single, full-throated apology in the bunch.
Calling those remarks "an apology tour" is a ridiculous charge. So we rate his statement Pants on Fire.