Should America Ever Apologize?
Accordingly, when Obama delivered his June 2009 speech, he took the bold step of admitting mutual misunderstandings between the West and the Arab and Muslim worlds. He acknowledged that Western colonialism “had denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims,” and that “modernity and globalization” had “led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.”
Touching on America’s response to the attacks of September 11, 2001, Obama conceded that “fear and anger … in some cases … led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals.” But, most important, he argued that, “we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors.” Only then could mutual trust, peace, democracy, and equality be achieved.
Pompeo’s vulgar reenactment of Obama’s appearance in Cairo reflected the foundational importance of the 2009 address. As it happens, Obama’s address was followed 18 months later by the Arab Spring, which, despite its overarching failure, put more countries in the region – particularly Tunisia – on varying paths to democracy. Obama also issued an overture to Iran, setting the stage for unprecedented negotiations and an eventual agreement that would forestall a regional nuclear arms race.
Implicit in Pompeo’s repudiation of Obama is the idea that American strength depends on never admitting any wrongdoing. Like many of the Trump administration’s policy choices, Pompeo’s act of political theater seemed to have been geared toward reversing or erasing Obama’s legacy. Whereas Obama opened his speech in Cairo with the Arabic greeting “Assalaamu alaykam,” Pompeo began his with references to the Bible and to his own commitment to evangelical Christianity.
Categorically rejecting Obama’s call for a “new beginning,” Pompeo touted America as “a force for good” in the region. “The age of self-inflicted American shame is over,” he announced, “and so are the policies that produced so much needless suffering. Now comes the real new beginning.”