President Obama was exactly right to issue a public apology and call for an investigation into what appears to have been a deeply unfortunate mistake committed by American soldiers. It is important that the United States demonstrate sensitivity to the history, traditions and culture of the Afghan people, who become outraged when the Quran, the Muslim Holy Book they believe to be sacred, is desecrated. Muslim sensitivities on this issue must be respected, and thus an apology was the proper message to convey.
Republican criticism of President Obama for issuing a public apology is purely political, not a substantive foreign policy critique. Indeed, President Bush issued a public apology after a similar incident in 2008 in Iraq when a soldier used the Quran as target practice.
Those who believe that America's apology to the Afghan people for this unfortunate act weakens us in the eyes of the world are flat-out wrong.
On the contrary, we are demonstrating to the world the strength and righteousness of our own values, traditions and culture. America should never become so arrogant that it fails to apologize when it makes an honest mistake that offends the sensitivities of another nation’s people. President Obama did the right thing.
Even if the Qurans had been used by detainees to pass messages, their burning was not only strategically counterproductive given our counterinsurgency mission in Afghanistan, but also wrong given the sacred nature of the Quran to so many people in Afghanistan, the United States and around the world.
President Obama’s apology was consistent with American values. Americans take responsibility for our actions and express compassion for those whom we have aggrieved.
Rep. Johnson (D-Ga.) sits on the House Armed Services and Judiciary Committees. He represents the eastern suburbs of Atlanta, GA.