Direct presidential apologies to victims of American actions abroad are rare, but not unheard-of. In 2012, Mr. Obama wrote a letter of apology to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan after several copies of the Quran were burned by American military personnel, leading to violent protests across that country. In 2004, President George W. Bush apologized for the treatment of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib military prison, telling world leaders that he was “sorry for the humiliation.”
Whether to deliver an apology is a difficult and sensitive decision for any president, but particularly for this one. Mr. Obama has been pilloried since the beginning of his presidency by Republicans who accuse him of being a serial apologizer for America. Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for president in 2012, wrote a book titled “No Apology,” a not-so-subtle dig at Mr. Obama. And Dick Cheney, the former vice president, recently published a book renewing the apology criticism of the president.
In this case, Mr. Obama proceeded with caution. Two days after the bombing, he expressed his “deepest condolences” to families of the hospital victims, calling it a “tragic incident.” But he and other White House officials resisted further comment for several days, citing the need to let investigations continue.
That changed on Wednesday after grim and detailed congressional testimony by Gen. John F. Campbell, the American commander in Afghanistan, who told lawmakers the attack was “a U.S. decision made within the U.S. chain of command.”
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