A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Romney’s Sorry ‘Apology’ Dig


TAMPA, Fla. — Mitt Romney revived a favorite attack from early in his campaign, accusing President Obama of beginning his presidency on an “apology tour” in foreign countries. Although it has been a consistent applause line, the claim doesn’t hold up when matched with Obama’s actual words.

Here’s how Romney put it in his speech accepting the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention:

Romney, Aug. 30: 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.

This is not the first time Romney has used this attack line. In fact, the title of his book “No Apology” is a riff on the theme. So let’s start there.

Romney in “No Apology”: Never before in American history has its president gone before so many foreign audiences to apologize for so many American misdeeds, both real and imagined. It 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.

Here’s how Romney makes the case in the book:

Romney in “No Apology”: 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.

Our fact-checking colleagues at PolitiFact and the Washington Post Fact Checker both pored over those speeches, and others, and wrote detailed analyses of the content of Obama’s words. Their conclusion: Obama never apologized.

We’ve read through the speeches as well. We’ve come to the same conclusion: Nowhere did we see that the president “apologized” for America. In some speeches, Obama was drawing a distinction between his policies and those of his predecessor, George W. Bush. In other instances, Obama appeared to be employing a bit of diplomacy, criticizing past actions of both the U.S. and the host nation, and calling for the two sides to move forward.

One illustrative example is from a speech Obama gave in Strasbourg, France, in April 2009. It is one of the “apology” examples cited by Romney in his book.

Obama, April 3, 2009: I know that there have been honest disagreements over policy, but we also know that there’s something more that has crept into our relationship. In America, there’s a failure to appreciate Europe’s leading role in the world. Instead of celebrating your dynamic union and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.

But in Europe, there is an anti-Americanism that is at once casual but can also be insidious. Instead of recognizing the good that America so often does in the world, there have been times where Europeans choose to blame America for much of what’s bad.

On both sides of the Atlantic, these attitudes have become all too common. They are not wise. They do not represent the truth. They threaten to widen the divide across the Atlantic and leave us both more isolated.

In this case, Obama admits to American failings, and then couples that with a critique of misperceptions fostered about the U.S. in Europe. That’s well short of a formal apology.

Similarly, in a speech in Cairo, Egypt, on June 4, 2009, Obama spoke about tensions between the U.S. and the Muslim world, and placed blame on both sides. And then he called for a “new beginning.”

Obama, June 4, 2009: The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of coexistence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11, 2001, and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. All this has bred more fear and more mistrust.

So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, those who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. And this cycle of suspicion and discord must end.

I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition.

We won’t get into all of the other speeches cited by Romney in his book, but suffice to say, we didn’t see that any of them rise to the level of an actual apology.

— Robert Farley