Why Obama's apologies make sense

LZ Granderson says he's glad for apologies by President Obama, such as for the unintentional burning of  Qurans in Afghanistan

Story highlights

  • Republicans have criticized President Obama, saying he apologizes for the U.S.
  • LZ Granderson says Obama has rightly admitted mistakes the U.S. has made
  • He says a willingness to admit fault is crucial to gaining international cooperation
  • LZ Granderson: Admitting our mistakes isn't a weakness but a strength

In 1945, not long after attending a historic meeting with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin and mere weeks before dying, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed Congress.

Frail from years of declining health, Roosevelt was forced to give his last report to Congress sitting down, but many of the words he spoke that day were strong:

"The structure of world peace cannot be the work of one man, or one party, or one nation, it cannot be just an American peace, or British peace, or a Russian, or a French or a Chinese peace. It cannot be a peace of large nations--or of small nations. It must be a peace which rests on the cooperative effort of the whole world."

Over the past few months we have heard a lot of rhetoric from Republican candidates about the supposed weakness of President Obama in relation to foreign policy -- specifically his willingness to apologize when the United States has inadvertently hurt or offended another nation.

LZ Granderson

It seems his challengers' idea of strength is to never admit that you are wrong, which any therapist will tell you is more of a reflection of a person's insecurity and weakness than of resolve or strength. And given the number of times the Reagan administration apologized -- to countries like Japan, China and Poland -- you would think this bunch of Reagan wannabes would want to be more careful in describing the behavior they consider weak.

Now, I understand it is an election year and certainly President Obama is as guilty as his opponents of being overtly political -- for example, holding a press conference the day of his rivals' Super Tuesday contests.

But the no-apology theme that has become part of the GOP campaign fabric harms the ability of this and future presidents to lead the kind of cooperative effort Roosevelt spoke of nearly 70 years ago.

It is extremely shortsighted of Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich to willfully cloud international diplomacy for some misguided cheers and a few lousy delegates.

It's irresponsible and it's counterproductive, for as Roosevelt pointed out in his last days, even the strongest of nations need the cooperation of others to achieve the ultimate goal of peace. It is hard to get them to rally behind you when you behave as the world's bully.

We can bribe countries with financial aid, we can scare them with military might, but all that only buys time. It masks resentment or delays war.

But it doesn't bring peace. Only humility can do that.

Our light as a nation shines brightest not when we tout our greatness but when we behave selflessly. The core of our character is epitomized by our willingness to fight injustices beyond our borders. But all that is undermined when we ignore the injustices -- intentional or not -- that America commits. Acknowledging that we are not above reproach only adds to our credibility.

And we are going to need all the influence we can muster.

When I look around, I see a planet at a critical juncture in history. The nuclear threat in Iran is unnerving, but it is only one of many challenges we face. We have a looming energy crisis and global food shortage because of rapid population growth.

Some of these issues we simply cannot just bully our way past. We're going to have to sit down with our friends as well as enemies. After all, no war has ever ended without both at the table.

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We're also going to need to be a part of the global community in a cooperative way -- and sometimes that will mean leading. Sometimes that will mean following. And yes, sometimes that will mean apologizing.

We should have apologized for testing syphilis on unsuspecting Guatemalans in the 1960s, and I'm glad President Obama did.

We should want to apologize for reneging on the promises made to the Filipino veterans who helped us fight in World War II.

And I'm glad we apologized for the unintentional burning of the Qurans in Afghanistan. Who knows how much worse the situation surrounding the massacre that left 16 civilian Afghans dead would be if President Obama hadn't apologized for that earlier offense?

Doing so didn't make him or the country weak, it made us strong.

Weak is never having the guts to say "I'm sorry."

Or berating the person who does.

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