Whether anyone realistically could have prevented 9/11, I don’t know. I find some of this discussion perhaps slanted by hindsight. Still, I admire those who have shown the courage, the dignity, the integrity to acknowledge their personal culpability in failing to prevent it. For example, Richard Clarke. And, for that matter, Donald Rumsfeld (regarding the sadistic and disgusting abuse of Iraqi prisoners. Mr. Rumsfeld has in this separate matter shown himself at least willing to consciously and explicitly own up to his accountability, at least verbally).
In this Mr. Rumsfled shows character unlike his boss. Mr. Bush has yet to show such leadership, even the semblance of it. And given how Mr. Bush has consistently avoided and repeatedly sloughed off his accountability for the last two and a half years, any apologies at this point will seem crassly contrived, synthetic performances calculated to appear penitent and humble, to gain sympathy and approval from voters who otherwise are not thinking very carefully about Mr. Bush's longstanding abrogation of his personal integrity.
Our president, our leader, our commander in chief calls himself “bold” and “decisive” but his words continue shoving responsibility down to those below him. Bush's standard: "The buck stops 'way back there. Not here." Take responsibility? Instead of real boldness, Bush affects a stereotypical macho swagger. "Apologize? Me? Shoot, boy, I'm the goldarn President."
We have a president who, as a candidate, didn't even show the decency to apologize to Adam Clymer for calling him a "major league asshole." Consider Mr. Bush's smarmy response:
I would expect this attitude from a four year-old, and this verbal craftiness from a middle schooler. But from a middle-aged man running for arguably the most powerful office in the world? Is this the honor and dignity he campaigned on?
Did he even acknowledge his personal fault in making such a crude remark? No. Does he show even the most rudimentary adult maturity in being willing to apologize for his childish vulgarity? Not this candidate. And not this president. This demonstrates Mr. Bush's emotional immaturity in both the petty and the profound.
His words from the Rose Garden for the abuse of Iraqis as the Abu Ghraib debacle unfolded in May 2004 ("I was sorry for the humiliation suffered by the Iraqi prisoners and the humiliation suffered by their families") strike me as "too-bad-this-happened," and comes dangerously close to reflecting the "sorry we got found out and it became public" as plainly established above. My cynicism finds some support in the fact that what little he offered he then quickly slathered with jingoism: "I told him I was as equally sorry that people seeing those pictures didn't understand the true nature and heart of America."
After three years of seeing how Mr. Bush behaves glibly and callously regarding his accountability in so many other contexts, I have trouble trusting these words. For those who think I take too negative a tack here, given Mr. Bush's persistent refusal to acknowledge any sort of "buck stops here" responsibility in other matters, I believe I have good reason, and too much precedent, to suspect he has here made a hollow use of the word "apology." I would imagine some of his handlers have probably told him: "Sir, good people out there wonder why you never do face up to your obligations, why you consistently refuse to demonstrate any integrity and decency in this regard. Honest, sincere people wonder why you always blame others for the failures on your watch. All due respect, Mr. President, pleaser consider at least saying the word, 'apologize.' Perhaps those who haven't thoughtfully, objectively examined your behavior in the last three years will believe you."
A genuine apology requires genuine courage. It leaves the door open to acknowledging that maybe I could have done better. I suspect that prospect horrifies some men. Certain men, emotionally stunted, still juveniles even into their 50's and 60's and 70's, never admit a mistake. They see apologizing as weak, flaccid, impotent. Say you're sorry? Face your failures? Only the wimps on Oprah do that touchy-feely crap.
I see a sincere apology as an expression of strength, courage, and genuine leadership. Mr. Bush and I evidently disagree on this.
Supplemental discussion, click here.