"I'll never apologize for the United States of America. Ever.
I don't care what the facts are."
- George H. W. Bush, Vice President
1988 presidential campaign
(in reference to the shooting down of Iran Air flight 655
by the USS Vincennes )
Recently, Senator John McCain and Senatory Lindsey Graham and numerous others have made statements criticizing President Obama's position regarding the unrest in Iran. There has been a glut of video replayed of McCain singing "bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran" to the tune of the Beach Boys "Barbara Ann" from the mid-April 2007 presidential campaign as accompaniment.
In contrast, I have been delighted by the deliberate, subdued tone of the statements coming from the White House. This President has shown a restraint in commenting on the events in Iran that was sorely lacking in the previous administration.
Likewise President Obama has received a great deal of criticism for his Cairo speech, including acknowledging the role of the United States in the 1953 overthrow of Iran's government, the first time an American president had admitted those actions. Those who criticize Obama take the position, consistent with the concept of American Exceptionalism, that to admit an error or wrong doing, on the part of the U.S., is to demean or diminish the dignity of our country, and to bring shame to us as a country, to us all.
I believe that the United States has done many things in the course of our history, both recent and older, which are greatly to our credit, things of which we should be justifiably proud. An objective reading of history however, shows me that we have done other things of which we should, in honesty, be much less proud, sometimes even ashamed. I do not see the acknowledgement of those things to be the essence of the shame, but the doing of them in the first place. Denial of the wrongs only compounds their evils.
Not only do we have on our national conscience the overthrow of a legitimate, democratic government of Iran in 1953, that was reversed by the 1979 revolution. There is the 1988 death of 290 civilians flying on a legitimate commercial air route while still in Iranian air space, when the USS Vincennes used surface-to-air missiles, SM-2MRs to shoot down the Airbus A-300, mistaking it for an F-14 Tomcat. The crew of the Vincennes were awarded Combat Action Ribbons for their actions, the captain of the ship William C. Rogers III was awarded the Legion of Merit, and the air-warfare coordinator, Lt. Col. Scott Lustig, received a Commendation Medal for heroic achievement, for maintaining his poise and confidence under fire. George H. W. Bush praised the crew for acting appropriately.
The United States paid $61.8 million, as a court awarded judgement for the deaths, after finding that the U.S. was at fault, but neither apologized nor admitted responsibility. There were accusations of a cover up, particularly after the United States tried to explain away the action of the Vincennes crew as a psychological condition, "scenario fulfillment". While I have not - so far - found any serious credit for the psychology of scenario fulfillment, it is described as a condition where individuals, such as members of the armed forces are unable to differentiate between the delusion of a training exercise scenario and the real experience, despite the clear indicators of reality. In the case of Iran Air 655, 18 members of the bridge crew suffered from an identical failure to identify reality from delusion.
I will leave comment on the military aspects of this event to Penigma, as he has a background in the armed forces that I lack. It does not require military experience to question why ribbons and commendations were awarded for delusional actions resulting in the deaths of 290 passengers (including 66 children). Above and beyond what were at best a bad response to the shooting down of flight 655, were the U.S. contributions to Saddam Hussein in waging war on Iran during the Iran Iraq war that lasted from 1980 to 1988. Some estimates of casualties are in the range of 2 million, and the weapons used by Saddam Hussein include some of his earliest experiments in massive use of poison gas as a WMD. The Iran Iraq War is in large part the reason that 70% of the population of Iran is currently under the age of 30. Currently, even as the Iran government is sending agents provacateur into Iraq against us, we are sending individuals into Iran to undermine the current regime.
One of the interviews criticizing President Obama included the commentator P. J. O'Rourke, who in response to a comment that the Iranians were unlikely to seek our involvement in their internal differences because of our past actions interfering with them, blew off the idea. "That was a long time ago. No one is going to remember all that stuff from the past." (I paraphrase his comments approximately) Rather, he asserted that we, as moral leaders of the world, should be setting an example by standing up for the rebelling factions. Even if the Iranian factions hadn't asked for our help - or our comments. This would be comparable to the citizens of the United States forgetting Pearl Harbor Day, AND 9/11, AND the Oklahoma City Bombing. This would be comparable to the USA telling the survivors of the Japanese American internment camps they should appreciate how morally superior we are as a country.
Similar statements were made by other conservatives/ right wing/ Republican hawks advocating a more aggressive policy, including John McCain. Senator Graham of South Carolina expressed not only the desire for more provocative statements from the President; he asserted that clearly the Iranians must be asking for our help because some of their signs were IN ENGLISH!
Apparently Senator Graham is unaware that not only is English the language of other countries besides the United States, but it is far more widely understood worldwide as the language of both business and diplomacy than Farsi.
It has been my experience when traveling abroad generally, and especially in the middle east, that the citizens of other countries have very good memories, very long memories, and consistently a better grasp of both history and geography than the average American. There seems to be a willingness to meet Americans half-way, in a spirit of good will, at least for individuals. Failing to acknowledge having ever done anything wrong anywhere at any time, is taken to be a foolish arrogance on our part that is incomprehensible to them. It is incomprehensible to me.
Thank GOD that Obama has the courage and strength to understand and admit our failures, in order to transcend them. Thank GOD that we have a leader who is finally sufficiently confident in himself to proceed carefully and with restraint; who will not let himself be stampeded or pressured into stupidity. A man who clearly understands the value of what is said, and also the sometimes even greater importance of what is NOT said, in being our face to the world.