The notion that President Barack Obama started his presidency with an "apology tour" is a persistent and false Republican talking point that we have debunked a number of times.
Mitt Romney is sticking to it.
The Republican presidential nominee repeated it during his second debate against Obama at Hofstra University on Oct. 16, 2012, in response to an audience member’s question about the September 2012 Libya attack.
"The president's policies throughout the Middle East began with an apology tour and pursue a strategy of leading from behind, and this strategy is unraveling before our very eyes," he said.
We checked Romney’s "apology" attack when he used it at the Republican National Convention and in his 2010 book, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness.
The tour, he wrote, is Obama’s 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."
An early apology tour?
Romney labels seven separate Obama speeches as apologies in his book. (We've compiled those passages in a separate document.) We noticed Obama tended to acknowledge American mistakes or bad impressions, but he countered it with praise of American ideals and the need to come 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 suggested both countries simply "move forward."
Throughout those speeches, Obama was most conciliatory when talking about torture and detention at the U.S. military installation at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Obama typically said the U.S. must always stay true to its ideals, and that's why he "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 diplomacy?
We asked several experts in 2010 if Obama had apologized. Here’s a recap of their thoughts (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."
We should note that Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have offered two apologies to foreign leaders during the latter half of Obama’s term -- once to Afghanistan President Harmid Karzai for the accidental burnings of the Quran, the holy book of Islam, and another to Pakistan for the death of Pakistani troops, respectively. However, these 2012 and 2011 gestures do not fit Romney’s claim that Obama’s presidency "began with an apology tour."
Once again, Romney has accused Obama of beginning his presidency "with an apology tour."
Our reviews of Obama’s 2009 foreign travels and speeches showed no such thing. While he criticized past U.S. actions, such as torture practices at Guantanamo, he did not offer one apology.
It’s ridiculous to call Obama’s foreign visits and remarks "an apology tour." We rate this statement Pants on Fire!