There is a scene in the film "Dr. Strangelove" in which the president of the United States, played by Peter Sellers, talks to the Soviet premier, "Dmitri," and apologizes for the planes that are about to drop nuclear bombs on his country. The "president" and the "premier" engage in a contest of one-upmanship about who is sorrier. Finally, at an impasse, the "president" settles for, "all right, we are both equally sorry, Dmitri." Then they get to the real issue, which is how to stop the planes.
This "sorry" episode came to mind as I watched the real president of the United States and secretary of defense apologize for the behavior of a few out-of-control reservists, their superiors and apparently uninformed civilian leaders in the alleged abuse of Iraqi war prisoners.
There are calls in some circles for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign and for the post-war strategy in Iraq to be overhauled. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (May 6) goes so far as to suggest President Bush invite to Camp David for the purpose of apologizing for his "mistakes" and eating "crow" the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and, among others, leaders of several Middle East countries.
What makes Friedman think this will change the policies of any of these states or the United Nations? It was precisely the failure of the United Nations to follow up on its numerous and worthless "resolutions" that forced the United States and Britain to act to oust Saddam Hussein. Can we expect new resolutions, without resolve, to be taken any more seriously than previous ones? Don't look for apologies or any personnel changes by the White House to change the mind or behavior of a single Arab state, or any of the fanatical clergy who believe, preach and teach that America is the "Great Satan." Instead, as is the case when Israel makes concessions to her enemies, the message sent is that terror and resistance work.
The hand-wringing about these abusive incidents not reflecting "who we are" is the stuff of touchy-feely television shows. Who are we? We are a free people who send their sons and daughters to other nations in order to lift the yoke of oppression and allow others to be free, which we view as their inalienable right. There can be no higher earthly good than to lay down one's life for one's fellow man.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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