A Quran-burning incident by U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan that led to violent protests has become part of the GOP candidates’ attacks against President Obama. Notably, the president’s attempt to mollify the situation with an apology to Afghan President Hamid Karzai has become a point of ridicule on the right. That’s now leading to an enormous tussle over, in effect, the impact of the word, “sorry.”
On the Sunday shows, both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum called Obama’s apology a mistake. “I think for a lot people, this sticks in their throat,” Mitt Romney said on Fox News Sunday. “We’ve made an enormous contribution to help the people there achieve freedom, and for us to be apologizing at a time like this is something which is very difficult for the American people to countenance.”
But Rick Santorum went a step further, saying on ABC’s This Week that it “shows weakness.” Santorum repeated that sentiment at an event in Marquette, Michigan, saying that those protesting could sense weakness in an apology. Santorum isn’t the first to hint that an apology could be part of the problem. In an interview with Newsmax on Saturday, the former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said Obama’s apology could lead to more protests: “You don’t apologize when makes you admit to a mistake that you haven’t made, and in fact in this case incites the people to do some of these things, because they think the apology is an admission of wrongdoing.”
On Saturday, after the GOP field had already been piling on about Thursday’s apology letter, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton argued that it was the very criticism of the apology that could harm the situation. “It was the right thing to do to have our president on record as saying this was not intentional, we deeply regret it,” Clinton said. “I find it somewhat troubling that our politics would inflame such a dangerous situation in Afghanistan.”
U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker warned on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday that the current firestorm should not lead to rash decisions. “This is not the time to decide that we’re done here,” Crocker said. “We have got to redouble our efforts. We’ve got to create a situation in which al-Qaida is not coming back.”
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.