Politics & Policy

All Apologies, All The Time


In 1993, in an interview with the Washington Post, the newly elected Bill Clinton commented that he missed the Cold War. Clinton explained to the Post that “We had an intellectually coherent thing. The American people knew what the rules were.” Of course, when the pressures of the Cold War actually pinched Bill Clinton he took a different position. As a young man of draft age, Clinton wrote that Vietnam was “a war I opposed and despised with a depth of feeling I have reserved solely for racism in America.” So much for the “intellectually coherent thing.” Charles Krauthammer called the revisionism of liberals who retroactively signed on to the Cold War the “greatest Cold War myth of all.”

To be sure it is a myth. But myths rarely have identifiable authors. Myths emerge like vapor from a meadow on a warm day. This lie had authors. This was spin.

I remember when the Soviet Union was disintegrating and somehow the Left managed to say this was a defeat for Cold War conservatives. Men and women who were deeply conflicted about whether or not the United States was right in its fight with Stalin gloated about how “you guys won’t have your Red-menace bogeyman anymore.” All of a sudden, a moment that should have been banged in with ticker-tape parades and a national holiday whimpered along with remarkably little comment. The only distracting noise was the chirping of the nuclear freezers, U.N. peaceniks, pro-soviet moral equivalencers, and other people who, in the words of Jeane Kirkpatrick, always blamed America first. They were delighted that the distraction of America’s “inordinate fear” of Communism (Carter’s words) was finally gone so they could get back to their good works.

On a personal note, one of my father’s closest friends and my brother’s godfather, Victor Lasky, passed away just as the Soviet Union went under. Not widely known today, there was a time when Victor Lasky was one of America’s greatest anti-Communist and conservative journalists. When Uncle Victor died, I remember my Dad saying, “Well, at least he got to see them go before he did.” If I had suggested to my father that Uncle Victor would have been disappointed to see the demise of Communism because it took away a good “wedge issue,” he would have popped a gasket.

There were conservatives (many of whom were former Communists), like Frank Meyer and James Burnham, who believed that defeating Communism was worth the price of nuclear annihilation, and yet liberals somehow thought these people were using Stalin the way Lee Atwater used Willie Horton. The practice continues of blaming conservatives first. Witness Patricia Ireland just two weeks ago on Meet the Press, explaining that the credible charge of rape against the most pro-feminist administration in history was in fact a burden for conservatives. Yeah, that’s right.

The president’s nostalgia for the intellectually coherent Cold War had all the hallmarks of Clinton spin. In 1993 it put him on what he thought was the right side of history. But since then, the president has been spinning on a world-historical scale. He is “blaming America last” across the globe. And since the Cold Warriors have all pretty much moved on, he’s getting away with it. Last year, you may recall, the president mounted an apology safari throughout Africa. He’d get off the bus, snap a few pictures, debrief Betty Currie, claim he didn’t know what his lawyers were doing, and apologize to anything that moved. He apologized for, among other things, not stopping a Rwandan genocide that he had been thoroughly briefed on — by claiming he didn’t know anything about it. He apologized to Ghana for slavery. That must have been tough. Yesterday, the president inaugurated the second year of his global-apology tour, this time hitting Central America. He apologized to Guatemalans for America’s support of military and intelligence units, which did in fact do some nasty things as part of America’s legitimate global struggle with Communism. The New York Times reports that he made his American mea culpa to an informal gathering “of leaders from many sectors of Guatemalan society, including Indians, women, government officials . . .” Sounds more like a meeting of the DNC platform-writing committee. Earlier in the day, the president spoke to the National Assembly of El Salvador, saying that the time was ripe for Central America to move beyond the bitter divide between Left and Right. There was no sense from our president that the Cold War was an intellectually coherent thing which dictated we help those helping us fight. Instead it was a series of apologies which make it sound like we were on the wrong side. Where is the recognition that if the Leftist guerilla groups had actually come to power in Central America, there would have been no elections, no new “marketplace of ideas” as Clinton calls it.

Just look at what he is apologizing for. He seems incapable of saying “I’m sorry” about anything he actually played a role in. Apologizing for things you had nothing to do with and disagreed with does not take moral courage. It is instead rewriting the rules after the buzzer sounds. He apologized for our role in the Central American “genocide,” but implied that the blame falls at the feet of Ronald Reagan. Indeed this is his excuse for not doing anything about Chinese espionage — “Reagan did it.” Or consider Bosnia. He compared it to the Nazi Holocaust, but when pollsters told him intervention would stick in the throats of the American people, he balked, and tens of thousands of people died. The president apologized to Ghana about slavery and to African-Americans about the Tuskegee experiments, but it took a DNA sample, six subpoenas, and several dry runs to get him to apologize about Monica Lewinsky.


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