Bush Once Apologized To China In Order To Free 24 Detained U.S. Soldiers: America ‘Is Very Sorry’

To hear conservatives, including those in the Republican presidential race, tell it, President Obama made America look weak by talking to Iran in order to get 10 detained U.S. sailors, rather than, say, immediately ordering carpet bombing of Tehran. Some right-wing media outlets were even more despondent. Breitbart, America’s preeminent dumping ground of right-wing hysteria, devoted several articles to framing the incident as a humiliation for Obama.


However, as much as conservatives would love to have this story be about Obama’s weakness, the facts simply do not support that conclusion.

For one thing, the entire duration was less than 24 hours. U.S. sailors had a GPS malfunction near the border of Iran. When they floated into that country’s sovereign territory, they were picked up by Iranian military ships. By all accounts, they were treated well during their “captivity.” Secretary of State John Kerry worked tirelessly with the Iranian government, who sent them back with their boats the next day. No missiles were launched. No wars were started. No lives were lost.

Getting no bloodshed, a perversely disappointed Republican Party were left instead to squabble over the details. At issue was whether Obama “apologized” to Iran for encroaching into their territory. This, Republicans said, was a serious blow to America’s reputation. According to these warmongering blowhards, to apologize is to surrender.

There are just two problems with this narrative: First, the Obama administration never apologized to Iran. And secondly, back in 2001, George W. Bush absolutely did apologize to another of America’s economic foes, China, when he was faced with a similar situation. Nobody thought offering an apology was a sign of America’s crumbling power when Bush did so.

In April of 2001, 24 US Air Force members were “captured” by the Chinese government after crashing on a Chinese island. It was, without a doubt, a colossal screw up. America had been flying spy planes into China’s territory, and one of those spy missions wound up crashing into a Chinese plane, killing the pilot. For 11 days, the U.S. soldiers were held in China while diplomats from both countries scrambled to figure out what to do. But then George W. Bush said he was sorry.

The letter delivered today to China’s foreign ministry by the US ambassador, Joseph Prueher, said Mr Bush and the secretary of state, Colin Powell, expressed “sincere regret” over the loss of the Chinese plane and the missing pilot, Mr Wang.

“Please convey to the Chinese people to the family of pilot Wang Wei that we are very sorry for their loss,” said the letter.

The document letter appeared to be a complex linguistic compromise.

A Chinese-language copy of the letter released by the US embassy did not use the term Chinese officials had insisted on – “daoqian”, a formal apology that admits blame.

Even worse – if you’re a writer for Breitbart – Bush went on to apologize for entering Chinese airspace. The same might be expected of Obama when two of America’s ships entered Iranian waters.

We are very sorry the entering of China’s airspace and the landing did not have verbal clearance, but very pleased the crew landed safely. We appreciate China’s efforts to see to the well-being of our crew.

While the situation was extremely tense at the time, and although the Bush administration was reluctant to say “I’m sorry,” they eventually backed down. (Note: The Bush administration would go on to repeatedly insist this apology was not an apology. Take that for what it’s worth.) America didn’t become the laughingstock of the world. Nobody felt like anyone had lost any respect. Instead, the two sides moved on. The American soldiers got to return home unharmed.

As we’ve seen time and again, the Republican Party, infuriated that they have no legs to stand on in complaining about Obama, create mountains out of molehills. A diplomatic issue that could have led to a very bad situation for 10 U.S. service members was resolved in less than 24 hours by two governments which strongly dislike each other and conservatives think that’s what losing looks likeAre they crazy? No. Just extremely disingenuous.

Or as the saying goes: There are lies, damned lies, and the right-wing media. Up is down. Cold is hot. And 10 soldiers getting to come home to their families safely is a “loss.” George W. Bush might want to have a talk with his colleagues.

Featured image via Flickr