While the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee argued at a Capitol Hill press conference Friday that the size of the U.S. force in Afghanistan should not be increased, the top Republican on the committee went to the Senate floor to make the opposite case.
The dueling messages symbolized the political showdown that looms for the Obama administration this fall over the direction of the war in Afghanistan.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the top Senate Democrat on military policy, said Friday afternoon that the war in Afghanistan requires “a surge of Afghan forces,” not more American forces, in order to achieve ultimate victory there. He added that no matter what the American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, requests in the near future, the senator will recommend against sending additional combat troops to Afghanistan for now.
“We should increase and accelerate our efforts to support the Afghan security forces in their efforts to become self-sufficient . . . before we consider whether to increase U.S. combat forces above the levels already planned for the next few months,” Levin said. He also said that the administration’s goal of having 240,000 Afghan army troops and 106,000 Afghan police should be moved up from 2013 to 2012.
The senator, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, laid out a three-pronged plan to strengthen the Afghan security forces, including improvements to its manpower, equipment and support. “To do that, we’re going to need significantly more trainers, including a larger contribution from our NATO allies.” Levin called additional support from NATO countries “the least they could do.”
Levin allowed that security in parts of Afghanistan has deteriorated, “but it can be turned around.” He also called allegations of fraud in the recent re-election of Afghan President Hamid Karzai “a major layer of complication” for U.S. efforts there.
Levin predicted that Gen. McChrystal will request additional U.S. combat troops this fall. When asked if he would directly oppose a potential troop increase request from the general, Levin said, “I am saying this in my recommendation to the president and I hope he considers my recommendation.”
While Levin spoke to reporters in the Capitol, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) went to the Senate floor to argue for sending more American troops to the country. McCain said he “could not disagree more profoundly” with Levin. “While I have great affection and respect for Senator Levin, I believe that this position would repeat the nearly catastrophic mistakes of Iraq and significantly set back the vital war effort in Afghanistan.”
McCain said that the next 12 to 18 months will be a crucial phase in the war, when security in the country must be improved by both training Afghan forces and winning back areas of the country that the Taliban now controls. “To do this, we will need more U.S. combat forces in Afghanistan, not less or the same amount as we have today,” he said.
McChrystal has not indicated whether he will request more troops as a part of his assessment of the progress of the war, and the White House said Thursday it has not made a decision on how it would respond to such a request. “The president will make a decision based on what he thinks is in the best national security interests of this country,” Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday.
During the 2008 campaign, then-candidate Barack Obama argued for a troop surge in Afghanistan. In February, he approved an increase of 17,000 combat troops. Another troop increase would not require congressional approval, unless new funding is needed. But as the war there drags on, its political implications domestically increase, especially for Democrats.
Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “I don’t think there’s a great deal of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan, in the country or in the Congress.”
The WomanUp women are lining up for and against “Mad Men,” with quite a few wondering what the fuss is over. Jill is both distraught and compelled by the 1960’s sexism, and Mary, Donna and I are happy to recreate each achingly slow, mid-century nuance of never actually having to say the truth, at least not directly.
Abortion foes who are still trying to shake the pall cast on them by the May shooting of Kansas abortionist George Tiller by a rabid right-winger believe they may have a martyr of their own in the murder on Friday of a pro-life protester near a Michigan high school.
Reports say that several shots fired from a passing car felled James Pouillon, 63, of Owosso, near Flint, about 7:20 a.m. in front of Owosso High School as students and teachers looked on in horror.
Pouillon, a retired auto worker who required oxygen tanks to breathe and wore braces on his legs, was a familiar and controversial anti-abortion protester. Police and residents said he often picketed with graphic photos of aborted fetuses and in the 1990s won a court battle to protest in front of the school. He picketed at various sites around town, and was vocal and “offensive” to many, in the words of one resident.
Pouillon was not a member of state or local Right to Life groups, but Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, a hard-line, anti-abortion protest group, told the Associated Press he wept when he received word that Pouillon had been killed. “He was just a kind, gentle man who loved life and endeavored to save other people’s lives,” Newman said.
Complicating the story is the fact that the suspect, a 33-year-old local man who was not immediately identified, was also believed to be the shooter in another murder Friday morning of a gravel company owner named Michael Fuoss, 61. Fuoss’ abortion views were not known.
ACORN office workers in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., have been caught on hidden video camera advising a couple posing as a prostitute and pimp on how to hide their crimes. On Friday, the video of the Washington, D.C., sting was released by the creator, an independent filmmaker. ACORN, a national non-profit that helps the poor get housing, fired the two Baltimore office employees on Thursday.
Baylor University released a study on Wednesday that determined one in 33 adult female church-goers had at some point been propositioned by their clergymen. Seriously? Is philandering a job benefit of wearing the cloth? What possesses them? The majority of these promiscuous preacher men (two-thirds) were married. That statistic doesn’t let Catholic priests off the hook entirely, but it gives some perspective that perhaps the diocese has been unfairly singled out over the sexually coercive behavior.
Earlier this year, a South Carolinian named Wilson who hated when blacks broke through historic barriers came to a profound realization that he’d lived his life all wrong. Not that Wilson, not the Republican congressman Joe Wilson who yelled “You Lie!” during President Obama’s speech Wednesday night and then apologized. (Or did he?) More on him later.
No, this was a different guy, a 72-year-old man life-long racist named Elwin Hope Wilson. As his time in this life wound down, faced with diabetes, children he’d disappointed, and a lifetime of violence directed at African-Americans, it suddenly hit Elwin Wilson hard as the punches he’d landed in the faces of civil rights demonstrators that he had been terribly wrong. It also struck him that there might be a price to pay for his sins.
So one forlorn day this past January, Elwin Wilson dropped by the auto body shop of a friend named Clarence Bradley. “I’m going to hell,” he lamented simply. An auto body shop might seem a humble setting for an epiphany, but Jesus was born in a manger. As Clarence Bradley is a man who takes his Christian faith seriously, before long a part-time pastor happened by the shop, too, and soon three aging white men were on their knees praying for Elwin Hope Wilson’s immortal soul.
Proving that if a Deity exists, He truly does work in mysterious ways, Wilson’s conscience had been stirred by Barack Obama’s election and roused to action by an article in Wilson’s home town newspaper, the Rock Hill Herald. That story was a retrospective on The Friendship Nine, a group of black men from South Carolina who had marched and spoken and sat-in for integration at the height of the civil rights struggle.
Wilson, a former Klansman, had opposed those men personally. He’d blocked their path, thrown eggs at them, and hanged black dolls in effigy. At times, he’d done worse than that. When he called the newspaper to seek help in meeting with the Friendship Nine, he was told that one of the men he beaten had gone on to become a famous congressman. His name is John Lewis.
A meeting was set up. “I’m sorry,” Elwin Wilson told Rep. Lewis. “I forgive you,” replied the congressman – and the two men physically embraced.
Apology or Apologia?
“One of the most profound human interactions is the offering and accepting of apologies.” That is the opening passage of On Apology, a sophisticated look at the phenomenon of saying we’re sorry – and meaning it. The book was written by Dr. Aaron Lazare, a psychiatrist and chancellor at the University of Massachusetts medical school. Professor Lazare came to this subject from his interest in the mental well-being of human beings after developing a profound admiration for the power of an apology to “heal humiliations and grudges, remove the desire for vengeance, and generate forgiveness.”
Along the way, Lazare also became intrigued by how the concept of apology is often misused, particularly by public officials whose goal is very nearly the opposite effect of a true apology. “Pseudo-apologies,” Lazare calls these gambits.
A true apology is no small thing. The seminal work in modern philosophy on the subject is Mea Culpa: A Sociology of Apology and Reconciliation, published in 1991 by a Canadian sociologist named Nicholas Tavuchis. “To apologize is to declare one has no excuse, defense, justification, or explanation for an action (or non-action) that has insulted, failed, or injured another,” he writes.
Those who have met this demanding standard – who have truly repented — often can’t remember where their anger or their hate originally came from, or even where it went.
“I’m a different man now,” Elwin Wilson proclaimed as he went around town apologizing to black people he’d hurt so many years before. “I want to love people regardless of what color.”
John Lewis, for his part, never wavered in his willingness to accept the change in Wilson at face value. “For you to come here today, it’s amazing to me,” Lewis said when they met face-to-face. “It’s unreal. It’s unbelievable. Maybe others will come forward because there needs to be this healing.”
In this instance, the healing described by Aaron Lazare was a palpable physical presence in the room. Such scenes are possible, however, only if a genuine apology is being tendered, and that this overture is, in turn, is genuinely accepted. If the “apology” in question is the typical non-apology so typical of athletes, celebrities – and, most especially, politicians – well, not so much. In that case, the supposed apologizers know exactly where their anger goes: in their adversaries faces. That’s because it is not really an apology they are tendering, but a defense of their own actions or, worse, a second line of attack masquerading as contrition.
This confusion may stem from the root of the word itself: It comes to us from the Greek word apologia, which is a defense of one’s beliefs, specifically beliefs that are under attack. It’s easy enough to imagine how the term began to evolve to its current meaning – especially the Greek authorities to whom Plato addressed his Apologia in defense of Socrates or those Roman emperors to whom apologias such as Justin Martyr’s were addressed actually examined their own actions.
The dual meaning remains. Modern American dictionaries list both definitions: i.e. (1) a formal defense of an idea or religion; (2) an acknowledgement of some fault or injury and an accompanying expression of regret. Although they sound like opposites, what these two definitions really constitute are opposite sides of the same coin – as Rep. Joe Wilson himself proved this week in his on-again, off-again expressions of regret to President Obama.
Congressman Wilson’s surreal and rapid journey from Republican Party goat to conservative movement martyr (yes, it’s the same word: Justin Martyr’s apologia in defense of his faith got him executed) demonstrates the difference between a fake apology and a real one. This distinction can subtle, detectable in the tone of the remark, or whether it is directed at the right person – or proffered by the right person – or by the motivations of the apologizer. It can be undermined by a single word or phrase, especially the expression, “If I offended…”
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., once provided a classic example. Commenting on a FBI report about the treatment of U.S.-held prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Durbin proclaimed: “If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what America had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime … that had no concern for human beings.”
This hyperbole outraged many people across the spectrum: political conservatives, military families of all ideological stripes, even Holocaust survivors. The Illinois senator responded with a tearful, if conditional, apology. “I’m sorry if anything that I said caused any offense or pain to those who have such bitter memories of the Holocaust,” he said. “I’m also sorry if anything I said in any way cast a negative light on our fine men and women in the military.”
Wrote Aaron Lazare in response: “Did you catch that qualifier – ‘if’? That’s the signal that this is a pseudo-apology. The alleged offender only conditionally acknowledges that he did anything wrong — only “if” his words caused offense or pain. Unfortunately, all too many apologies are of this nature.”
The Political Apology
Dick Durbin has plenty of company in proffering the typical Washington Apology, made famous by politicians and sports figures the world over, and perfected here in the nation’s capital. In its most perfect form, this insincere expression of regret is not an apology at all. Sometimes, it’s not even an apologia – more like an attack ad. Usually, it’s an alibi masquerading as an apology, complete with all the usual excuses: Alcohol made me do it; drugs made me do it; greed made me do it; Washington’s culture made me do it; the other guy made me do it. The passive voice is always a giveaway.
— “I am sorry that this misunderstanding happened at all, and I regret its escalation and I apologize.” (Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., after hitting a Capitol Hill cop.)
— “I allowed myself [to] get too comfortable with the way things have been done in Washington, D.C., for too long.” (Rep. Robert Ney, R-Ohio, after getting caught taking bribes.)
— “I was taking pills-tranquilizers. I used to take them all the time. They affected my mind a little bit.” (Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., after sending sexually explicit emails to teenage boys who had served as congressional pages.)
— “That came out of my mouth. And I’m not that. That’s not who I am. Alcohol loosens your tongue and makes you act, say and behave in a way that is not you.” (actor Mel Gibson after a traffic stop in which he went on an anti-Semitic tirade against the Los Angeles Country sheriff’s deputies who pulled him over for driving drunk.)
— “The comment was not meant to be a regional slur. To the extent that it was misinterpreted to be one, I apologize.” (Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Taylor, after referring to prospective jurors in the eastern Kentucky mountains as “illiterate cave dwellers.”)
— “Iwas unaware of any negative connotation and if I offended somebody obviously I apologize.” (Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., after saying, “Republicans are struggling right now to find the great white hope.”)
— “Well look, if there — obviously, if I worded things in a way that made people offended, I deeply regret that.” (Barack Obama, trying to limit the damage from his remark that small-town Pennsylvania voters “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them … as a way to explain their frustrations.”)
The Clintons and the Wilsons
In her famous “pink press conference” in 1994, then-first lady Hillary Clinton kind of expressed regret for misleading statements she and her staff had made concerning Whitewater and bill records and such. Her apologia was that she was working too hard on health care.
“I’m not in any way excusing any confusion that we have created. I think we have created it, because I don’t think that we gave enough time or focused enough,” she said. “You know, I have been traveling, and I’m more committed to health care than anything else…” She also spoke of her “belief” that the problems perceived by the media as candor were “really a result of our inexperience in Washington, if you will, that I really did not fully understand everything that I wish now I had known.” She added, “And, you know, it’s a learning experience — sometimes a difficult one, but I think one that both the president and I are anxious to do because we think that the reason he was elected was to deal with the big issues that we want the country to deal with…”
During those years, President Clinton and the first lady would occasionally express contrition of a sort for various misunderstandings. If one parses, and then paraphrases the Clinton approach to saying they are sorry, it essentially consisted of this: “Look, we came to Washington with high hopes, not realizing how truly venal Republicans are – and how stupid the media is. And yes, that’s our fault. We should have known.”
In 2008, during a spirited presidential primary season, things got a little trickier for the Clintons, however. Their critics that year were other Democrats. The Washington Apology was employed, often, with subtle variations on the theme.
“I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation and in particular the Kennedy family was in any way offensive,” Hillary Clinton said. “I certainly had no intention of that whatsoever.” That was Mrs. Clinton, sort-of apologizing for her macabre explanation for why she was keeping her campaign going: Robert Kennedy had been assassinated on the day of the last Democratic primary in 1968. (Guess it could happen again!).
And in an appearance before the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a group of more than 200 black community newspapers across the country, Sen. Clinton offered a pseudo-apology on behalf of her husband for pointing out dismissively – and, some believe, insensitively – after Obama bested his wife in the South Carolina primary that Jesse Jackson also carried the state when he ran for president in 1984 and 1988.
“I want to put that in context,” Mrs. Clinton said. “You know I am sorry if anyone was offended. It was certainly not meant in any way to be offensive. We can be proud of both Jesse Jackson and Senator Obama. Anyone who has followed my husband’s public life or my public life know very well where we have stood and what we have stood for and who we have stood with.”
According to the standards established by Nicholas Tavuchis and Aaron Lazare, this was a classic apologia, not an apology. It also wasn’t Hillary’s to make, it was Bill’s.
As president, Bill Clinton began an unfortunate trend of having America’s chief executive (and commander-in-chief) going around tendering generic apologies on behalf of the United States of America for transgressions that took place in previous administrations, sometimes centuries ago. These blanket apologies cover subjects ranging from slavery to global warming to the war in Iraq. This precedent has been continued by President Obama and his Secretary of State, one Hillary Rodham Clinton — sometimes for actions of the Bush administration.
Is it disingenuous to apologize on behalf of our ancestors, or our political opponents? Philosopher C.S. Lewis thought so. In God in the Dock, he offers this caution: “The first and fatal charm of national repentance is … the encouragement it gives us to turn from the bitter task of repenting our own sins to the congenial one of bewailing – but, first, of denouncing – the conduct of others.”
If dubious apologies are a theme running through the Clintons’ career, the same may be said of a much lesser career, that belonging to Rep. Joe Wilson, the South Carolina congressman very much in the news today.
In 2002, during his first term in office, Wilson was debating Democratic Rep. Bob Filner of California about the wisdom of invading Iraq during an appearance on C-SPAN. Filner offered up the dubious liberal canard that the United States “gave” Saddam Hussein the biological and chemical weapons the U.S. wanted to take from him. “That is wrong. That’s made up,” Wilson said in response. “I can’t believe you would say something like that.”
So far, so good, but when Filner refused to back down, Wilson spat out: “This hatred of America by some people is just outrageous. And you need to get over that.”
Filner, who as a college kid was a Freedom Rider in Mississippi, was incredulous. “Hatred of America? . . . Are you accusing me?”
“Yes!” Wilson shouted in response, repeating the phrase four times and then adding to it the accusation that Filner was “viscerally anti-American.” After the show ended, Filner told Wilson he thought he’d gone over the line – and that he should apologize. Wilson wouldn’t do that; nor would he get on the phone with a Washington Post reporter who called to ask about it. Instead, Wilson faxed over a written statement disputing Filner’s assertions about WMD, along with a classic pseudo-apology: “If I said something in the heat of the debate that was taken as critical of the congressman’s patriotism or commitment to this country, I apologize. As a 28-year member of the Army National Guard, I take these accusations very personally.”
Two years later, it was Wilson who broached the subject of an apology. He said he wanted to hear expressions of regret from Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry over Kerry’s long-ago criticism of the conduct of the American military in Vietnam, an accusation made when Kerry himself return from combat duty in Southeast Asia.
Wilson’s political ploy bore no fruition — although Georgia Democrat Max Cleland did call Wilson a “chicken-hawk,” which probably did merit an apology.
Thus was the stage set for Joe Wilson’s Wednesday outburst. The story of how that unfolded is now well-known: Wilson shouted out “You lie!” when Obama said in his speech that his health insurance reforms would not apply to illegal immigrants; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi looked stricken at the rude outburst; so did Republican leaders who actually had the most to lose by Wilson’s boorishness; after the speech, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, a former House member himself, requested an apology; Wilson issued one.
(“While I disagree with the president’s statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable,” he said in writing. “I extend sincere apologies to the President for this lack of civility.”) Wilson also called the White House and was put through to Emanuel; in expressing his contrition to Emanuel, Wilson reiterated what he told reporters, that in the heat of the moment his emotions had gotten the best of him; the next day the president said publicly that he had accepted the apology. “I’m a big believer that we all make mistakes,” the president said. “He apologized quickly and without equivocation, and I’m appreciative of that.”
But did he? The president’s graciousness aside, Politics Daily sought a consultation with Dr. Lazare: It seems that Wilson’s words might constitute a new level in insincerity when it comes to apologias.
First of all, Wilson’s heat-of-the-moment defense is not mitigating information; it is precisely the kind of excuse-making Nicholas Tavuchis warns against. Secondly, Wilson now says that apologizing wasn’t his idea, but that of the Republican leadership, which calls into question whether his expressions of contrition were heartfelt at all. Third, his previous history with Filner and Kerry over the politics of apologies reveals that he has a history with the politics of contrition. Fourth, as Lazare pointed out directly, it’s not only Obama whom Wilson offended. It’s the other members of the House of Representatives, the guests in the chamber, his own party leadership, and the country as a whole.
So his apology wasn’t broad enough, not nearly. Fifth — and this might be Joe Wilson’s true contribution to the literature of a new standard for apologia insincerita — whenit became clear in the 24 hours following his outburst that Wilson had emerged as an unlikely hero for the most virulent of the anti-Obama crowd, the congressman actually began backing away from his own apology. Meaning that it was not only offered purely for the sake of expediency, but was utterly disingenuous as well.
Let’s give the last word, shall we, to Bob Filner, the California congressman whom Wilson insulted in 2002: “I was one of the first Freedom Riders in Mississippi in the early 1960s,” Filner said. “I’ve been beaten up and thrown in jail by better people than Joe Wilson.” People like Elwin Hope Wilson, for example.