Apology Silliness, Foreign Policy Edition

We're now negotiating the terms of our sort-of-departure from Afghanistan, and there's no doubt the Afghan government needs America more than America needs it. Imagine, if you would, that we just packed up and left. There would almost certainly be a full-on civil war, one the Afghan government would be hard-pressed to win. And back here, we'd pay about as much attention as we do now to the river of blood flowing through Iraq, which is to say, every once in a while we'd see a news story and say, "Gee, that's terrible," and then go back to wondering how long it'll be before Miley Cyrus and Lindsay Lohan go on a cross-country crime spree.

So if you were the Afghan government, you probably wouldn't want to drive too hard a bargain in negotiating the terms of the future American presence there. And it's all getting hung up on whether the Americans are going to apologize for killing Afghan civilians, and whether they might offer an apology that isn't really an apology, and whether they can do it in a letter that's signed by Secretary of State John Kerry or if the letter has to be signed by President Obama himself. This is the silliness on which the future of an entire country, and who knows how many lives, depends.

Here's how it was reported this morning:

KABUL, Afghanistan — Months of fraught negotiations and public posturing over how a long-term American military force could remain in Afghanistan have suddenly come down to a demand for a single personal gesture: a display of contrition by President Obama for military mistakes that have hurt Afghans.

Afghan officials said Tuesday that in return for such a letter from Mr. Obama, President Hamid Karzai would end his vehement opposition to American counterterrorism raids on private Afghan homes — one of the most contentious issues between allies over a costly dozen-year war — clearing the way for an agreement to keep a smaller American troop force in the country past the 2014 withdrawal deadline.

Obviously, there are domestic politics at work on both sides. The Obama administration is a little skittish about apologies, since they've spent the last five years being falsely accused of "apologizing for America" (Mitt Romney, you'll recall, titled his campaign book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness just to show people how unapologetic he was). Karzai, on the other hand, needs to show everyone that he's playing hardball with the Americans. When you apologize to someone, you've put yourself in an inferior position, one of supplication, even if only momentarily, so the more abject the apology you're receiving, the more superior you can feel.

They're about to finalize the deal, and it'll surely include something Karzai can tell his people is an apology, and Obama can tell his people isn't an apology. But if you were an alien who just came down to Earth, and you were informed that the fate of millions depended on whether one tribal chieftan gave another tribal chieftan a sufficiently apologetic apology, you'd report back to your home planet that this species is primitive and unenlightened, and should be scheduled for termination and resource exploitation by the Galactic Salvage Corps forthwith.

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