The power of a good apology

In a column in the Wall Street Journal last April, Karl Rove, former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, wrote that President Barack Obama had finished the second leg of his international confession tour. "In less than 100 days, he has apologized on three continents for what he views as the sins of America and his predecessors," he wrote.

The president told the French earlier this year that America "has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive" toward Europe.

In Prague, Rove wrote, President Obama said America has "a moral responsibility to act" on arms control because only the U.S. had "used a nuclear weapon."

In London, he said that decisions about the world financial system were no longer made by "just Roosevelt and Churchill sitting in a room with a brandy." And in Latin America, he said the U.S. had not "pursued and sustained engagement with our neighbors" because we "failed to see that our own progress is tied directly to progress throughout the Americas."

You can guess that these words, coming from Rove, weren't written in support of the president's actions. Apologizing, in Rove's eyes, is a sign of weakness in the character of our chief executive. "That may win short-term applause from foreign audiences," Rove concludes, "but do little for what should be the chief foreign policy preoccupation of any U.S. president: advancing America's long-term interests."

It's clear that Rove didn't grow up in the Lias household, which during my childhood, could at times have easily resembled The Jerry Springer Show if not for one overwhelming presence: my mother. She somehow survived raising five boys, who acted like, well, boys. We'd argue and bicker at times, like all siblings do, and sometimes we'd take things too far.

When that happened, the perpetrator of the incivility would be asked to apologize. As I recall, we were never faced an "apologize or else" threat from Mom. She made it clear that an apology was in order because it was the right thing to do.

Our mother instilled in us the value of a good apology. It was the proper way to take responsibility for a transgression, to think about why we did something that we knew was clearly wrong, and to fully realize that we wouldn't ever make that hurtful mistake again.

I reflect on this because, unlike Rove, the U.S. Senate appears to share at least a small bit of the wisdom my mother possesses.

Last week, The Senate approved a resolution apologizing to American Indians for years of "ill-conceived policies" and acts of violence against Native Americans by U.S. citizens.

Lawmakers said the resolution, which was included in a defense spending bill approved Tuesday, Oct. 6, was a symbolic gesture meant to promote healing and promote a renewed commitment to tribal communities. Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas and Democrat Byron Dorgan of North Dakota introduced the resolution.

The current apology resolution was careful to state that it is not meant to authorize or support any claim against the U.S. government or serve as a settlement of any claim. It "recognizes that there have been years of official depredations, ill-conceived policies and the breaking of covenants by the federal government regarding tribes," and "apologizes on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native Peoples for many instances of violence, maltreatment and neglect inflicted on" American Indians by U.S. citizens.

President Obama is urged in the resolution to "acknowledge the wrongs of the United States against Indian tribes" in order to encourage healing.

Lawmakers who represent large tribal communities said it should not stand in place of additional federal aid through improved health care and public safety. "Native Americans deserve an apology. But they deserve much more than that," said Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD).

"The real issue, I think, is what are we are doing to improve the conditions on the reservations," said Sen. John Thune (R-SD).

Will such an apology immediately make life better in Indian Country in South Dakota? Of course not. Just as the apologies the president issued earlier this year offer no magic solution to the United States' poor relations in many regions of the globe.

Such expressions of contrition are, however, a good start, despite what Rove says.

Just ask my mother.

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