Thursday, February 23, 2012


News should be about something important that just happened. Real news might surprise us, and might even challenge our assumptions. Sadly, we don't seem to be all that interested  in that kind of news in these days of an ideologically-sorted cable TV audience. What makes news these days are stories that fit our preconceived narratives. As an example: the story of Newt Gingrich's outrage--outrage!--that the Obama administration apologized to the Afghan government for the careless or reckless acts by some American personnel of burning a few Korans at a military base in Afghanistan. Gingrich called this apology a "surrender." What's convenient about an incident like this from Gingrich's point of view is that he can use it as an example in support of the false narrative that Obama administration has been kowtowing to radical Islam. That allows him to stoke the fires of vicious and libelous rumors that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim or terrorist sympathizer without coming right out and saying so. Instead Gingrich says this, which is nearly as bad:
 "There seems to be nothing that radical Islamists can do to get Barack Obama's attention in a negative way, and he is consistently apologizing to people who do not deserve the apology of the president of the United States, period."
Really, Newt? You wouldn't call killing Osama bin Laden or any number of other al Qaeda operatives a form of "negative attention"?  You must think the president was showing his love for these terrorists by sending them to an early grave. You don't think that the Obama administration's dramatic expansion of the US and NATO presence in Afghanistan is perceived by the Taliban in a negative way at all?  You really think we sent all those troops into Afghanistan to apologize to radical Islam? Seriously?

If we were to allow some facts and context to get in the way of Gingrich's story, we might have to consider that the burning of the most sacred texts of the people whose country we are essentially occupying might ruffle a few feathers, and might justify some small conciliatory gesture. According to the same CBS story, George W. Bush issued an apology to the Prime Minister of Iraq after an American soldier fired a gun into a Koran. I don't recall Newt Gingrich complaining about any "surrender" by Bush to radical Islam at that time.

While thinking about this story, I came across another story today about two stupid teenage girls in Florida who got into a whole lot of trouble for creating a seriously racist video. Naturally they issued effusive apologies to try to rectify the damage they caused. No one would consider such an apology inappropriate.

It should go without saying that when someone commits a thoughtless act that is likely to inflame the feelings of those who were offended by it, they ought to apologize for it. Otherwise they are just asking for more trouble. I feel confident that even if Newt Gingrich were president, he would try to minimize the offense caused by inappropriate actions by American soldiers or other personnel stationed abroad. That's the president's job. Just as, if we invited some foreign soldiers to this country and found out they started a bonfire with a bunch of Bibles, he would feel an apology--at least!--were warranted. If we would demand recompense for a foreign government's offensive acts toward us, which of course we would, then the Golden Rule--which Newt Gingrich is supposed to subscribe to--demands an apology by us in similar circumstances.  What kind of arrogance justifies the assertion that being an American means never having to say you are sorry?

Only when you're involved in a political campaign looking for any sort of material to support a false narrative about your political opponent might you seize on an action of decency and plain common sense and try to turn it into something nefarious. I say that not to excuse Newt Gingrich's ludicrous comments, but only to try to understand them.

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