President Obama is going to Vietnam and Hiroshima, and it doesn't take a fortuneteller see how it will be portrayed in the conservative media and ultimately the campaign to succeed him.
Right-leaning news outlets will almost definitely use the trip, which was announced by the White House on Tuesday, to revive the popular "apology tour" narrative and link likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Obama's former secretary of state, to his supposed groveling. Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, who never apologizes and espouses an "America first" approach to foreign policy, will almost definitely take the opportunity to tout his own strength.
The apology story line hasn't had enough time to rev back up yet — Breitbart's initial report on the announcement is pretty vanilla, for instance — but conservative radio host and Fox News Channel contributor Mike Gallagher got things started:
Get ready for another apology for America: Obama plans first visit by a President to Hiroshima, Japan https://t.co/gBJWUbGSb7
— Mike Gallagher (@radiotalkermike) May 10, 2016
Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin tweeted her month-old column about Secretary of State John Kerry's "apology tour" of Hiroshima after Obama's trip was announced.
Flashback: Seeing right through the Hiroshima apology tour redux==> https://t.co/su7t9WYzAi
— Michelle Malkin (@michellemalkin) May 10, 2016
And Foreign Affairs already wrote something of a road map for how to deal with the charge.
How to prevent Obama's Hiroshima visit from looking like another stop on the "apology tour" https://t.co/TqSSqmmNuz
— Foreign Affairs (@ForeignAffairs) May 10, 2016
Obama appears to see more of this coming. The presumptive nominee for "best headline related to this story" comes from Gawker, which writes, "The White House really wants you to know that Barack Obama isn't going to apologize for dropping the bomb on Japan." The article, by Brendan O'Connor, is filed under "apology tour," which is apparently an entire genre of articles on the Gawker website.
Anyway, O'Connor notes that Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser to the president, made sure to state clearly in a blog post on Medium that Obama "will not revisit the decision to use the atomic bomb at the end of World War II. Instead, he will offer a forward-looking vision focused on our shared future."
Such assurances probably won't be enough to squash the idea that Obama is effectively saying "sorry" just by showing up in a place where a U.S. nuclear strike killed tens of thousands of people — something no president has done before.
If you've forgotten the details of Obama's original "apology tour," the Heritage Foundation put together a handy list of the top 10 highlights in 2009. Former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove articulated the frustration of many conservatives in a Wall Street Journal column that year.
Mr. Obama makes it seem as though there is moral equivalence between America and its adversaries and assumes that if he confesses America's sins, other nations will confess theirs and change. But he won no confessions (let alone change) from the leaders of Venezuela, Nicaragua or Russia. He apologized for America and our adversaries rejoiced.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post Fact Checker has given four Pinocchios to the claim that Obama began his presidency with an "apology tour."
Obama often was trying to draw a rhetorical distinction between his policies and that of President Bush, a common practice when the presidency changes parties. ... In other cases, Obama's quotes have been selectively trimmed for political purposes.
PolitiFact has bestowed the inauspicious "Pants on Fire" rating.
While Obama's speeches contained some criticisms of past U.S. actions, he typically combined those passages with praise for the United States and its ideals, and he frequently mentioned how other countries had erred as well. We found not a single, full-throated apology in the bunch.
Calling those remarks "an apology tour" is a ridiculous charge.
The first hints that conservative news outlets were preparing to exhume the apology narrative arrived last month, when Kerry toured the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and Museum and called his visit "a reminder of the depth of the obligation every one of us in public life carries . . . to create and pursue a world free from nuclear weapons."
David Harsanyi wrote in the National Review at the time that "there's a lot of speculation Obama will visit Hiroshima during the [G-7] summit [in May] and offer some sort of apology." He added:
(If we’re to believe WikiLeaks, U.S. officials have been wrestling with the idea of having Obama apologize for the Hiroshima attacks for a while now.)
Doing so would comport well with his history, and it would not be a great leap for Obama. Having a high-ranking American official visit the museum already lends credibility to the Japanese notion that the U.S. bombing was gratuitous. On top of that, Kerry blames nuclear weapons — rather than Japan’s fanaticism and nihilism — for Hiroshima.
The National Review doesn't even like Trump; actually, the magazine is downright hostile toward the real estate mogul. But expect more articles like this from the National Review and other right-leaning news outlets as Obama heads to Japan. And expect Trump to use the perception of an "Apology Tour 2.0" to his advantage in the presidential campaign.