When is an apology not an apology?
November 20th, 2013
02:04 PM ET

When is an apology not an apology?

By Elise Labott

In the delicate dance of diplomacy, the word "apology" can be a misstep.

Such is the case with a proposed letter of assurances from the United States to the people of Afghanistan, which is emerging as a way to overcome remaining hurdles to allowing some U.S. troops to remain in that country post-2014.

Those assurances include a U.S. commitment for its troops to only enter Afghan homes in "exceptional" circumstances and an expression of U.S. regret for Afghan suffering and the loss of innocent lives.

 Afghan President Hamid Karzai had said he was unable to finalize the agreement without concrete terms for U.S. raids on Afghan homes and an acknowledgment of past U.S. mistakes in the 12-year old war. The longstanding issues for Afghans have lingered as the remaining points of contention holding up a deal.

The proposed letter - an idea hatched by Secretary of State John Kerry in a phone call Tuesday with Karzai - would be read at a meeting of more than 2,500 Afghan tribal elders and officials, known as a loya jirga, which is scheduled to start Thursday. The assembly was called to debate the security pact between the two countries, which U.S. and Afghan officials say is nearly complete.

But does that mean Washington is offering an "apology" for U.S. actions in Afghanistan? The idea could draw criticism from Republicans in Congress and offend U.S. veterans of the war.

"Quite the contrary," National Security Adviser Susan Rice told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "We have sacrificed and supported them in their democratic progress and in tackling the insurgents and al Qaeda. So that (letter of apology) is not on the table."

 But it's really a distinction without a difference.

 The U.S. has commonly used language in the past expressing regret for civilian deaths. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Generals John Allen and Stanley McChrystal, both former commanders of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, have all offered some form of an apology to Karzai and the Afghan people when innocent Afghans were killed in U.S. attacks.

 U.S. officials say repeating that language could give Karzai the political cover he needs on the tough issues likely to be raised at the loya jirga and show him as a hard-nosed negotiator with Washington. They say the assurances do not tamper with the substance of the security agreement.

 The need for the United States to have legal jurisdiction for U.S. military personnel and Defense Department civilians in the event of wrongdoing - which Washington said was necessary for U.S. troops to remain in the country beyond 2014 when most foreign troops are due to leave - was another of the last sticking points in the negotiations, which officials said has been resolved.

Bottom line: Semantics may give both sides what they want.

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  21. JoeO

    It is an American value to regret the killing of civilians caught up in warfare. And, there is nothing weak about apologizing – quite the contrary, as only the weak & frightened consider it a weakness.

    November 22, 2013 at 3:35 pm | Reply
  22. Fort Worth Tom

    We should apologize for not arresting the drug lords in the Karzai family. We should apologize for not arresting members of the Afghan government who have smuggled hundreds of millions of US dollars out of the country to Qatar and Dubai where they maintain their retirement homes. But,... we should apologize with action, not words, and correct our mistakes.

    November 21, 2013 at 7:35 pm | Reply
    • Sunandan Kaul

      Yeah , right. The same set of so called terrorists and smugglers were martyrs and rebels when they were fighting again the Soviet Union.

      November 21, 2013 at 9:08 pm | Reply
      • Fort Worth Tom

        No, not really all the same group. Its far more complex than such a generalization accommodates. Most of the Taliban has it out for the old Mujahdeen, but there are some unbelievably bloody-handed warlords still running around who seem to be favored by the Western press. Although our State Department/White House was evidently against them, I'm sorry the old Royal family wasn't re-instated. They were almost the only ones who truly represented the desires of the Afghan people.

        November 21, 2013 at 9:31 pm |
  23. Fish

    They don't need or want an apology, they have our troops and money till 2025 thanks to Obama the fink!!!

    November 21, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Reply
  24. Kelly Gomez

    Susan Rice......enough said. This girl is a LIE factory!

    Benghazi was because of a video and this administration isn't apologizing......again

    November 21, 2013 at 10:28 am | Reply
    • Carol Johnson

      Susan Rice is the USA ambassador to the United Nations and had nothing to do with the protection of any ambassador anywhere.
      The State department and more important is the INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES AND MILITARY ARE IN CHARGE OR PROTECTING OUR EMBASSIES ACROSS THE WORLD.

      WHY DO NOT YOU ASK PETRAEUS WHAT HAPPENED HE WAS IN CHARGE OF INTELLIGENCE, BUT MAY HAVE BEEN FOOLING AROUND WITH HIS MISTRESS INSTEAD OF TAKING CARE OF HIS JOB!

      November 21, 2013 at 11:36 am | Reply
  25. Aaron

    What they say and what they really mean :-

    Iran – "We don't want nuclear weapons".
    Translated as – "Why bother spending billions of dollars on nuclear technology if we don't get a bomb. Of course we want nukes."

    Israel – "We want peace with the Palestinians."
    Translated as – "We want their land. If they give it up peacefully, that would be best. Otherwise we will bomb and impose sanctions on them until they relent."

    USA – "We are sorry for civilian deaths. We apologize."
    Translated as – "Who cares? We will keep killing these people as we please cause their lives don't matter."

    November 21, 2013 at 2:15 am | Reply
    • Kelly Gomez

      lol, you are silly........ There is a mosque where the Jewish temple once stood....... so who's land is it? Learn a little history!

      November 21, 2013 at 10:30 am | Reply
    • Berel Dov Lerner

      Wow. I wonder what those Israelis were thinking when they gave up all that land – much more than the West Bank – to Egypt in exchange for peace. I wonder what they were up to when they gave land to Jordan in exchange for peace. I wonder that they were thinking when they unilaterally left the Gaza Strip. I wonder what they were thinking when they gave the Palestinian Authority control of large sections of the West Bank...

      November 21, 2013 at 11:07 am | Reply
    • Ben Dover-Fast

      Very well put!

      November 22, 2013 at 7:52 am | Reply
  26. Burt Ward

    I'm sorry you are not able to sign up for Obamacare because you live a pathetic life and have to rely on the government to carry your ass through life.

    November 20, 2013 at 9:52 pm | Reply
  27. Kathryn O'Hehir

    We not only owe them an apology for this war's time period, but worse, when we pulled out after helping them get Russia off their backs. Let us not forget, the Bush administration was in bed with the Taliban in those days, who we trained (CIA anyway) and then just left a vacuum the Taliban filled. I have no idea if leaving any troops there now will prevent history from happening again, but we set up the puppet government and if it falls, that is our fault, too. And I'd like to know if Susan Rice has had her house invaded by soldiers in the last 10 years? She is not helping, and no one in this administration, particularly the NSA is trustworthy. Words are easy, peace is hard.

    November 20, 2013 at 6:47 pm | Reply
    • Kelly Gomez

      Blaming Bush.....snore snore..... Do you even realize Obama is on his 5 year as president?? 5 YEARS, own up to responsibility!

      November 21, 2013 at 10:31 am | Reply
  28. Portland tony

    We have always during warfare apologized for the killing of non-combatants even as our history shows, at times, that it was done purposefully. If any governmental apologies are due today it is to the American people for getting us into this damned 12 year war in the first place. Especially to the families who have lost loved ones in a war that has accomplished absolutely nothing.

    November 20, 2013 at 5:17 pm | Reply

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