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Fact or fiction: Is Obama the ‘apologist’ president?

U.S. President Barack Obama pauses during remarks at a campaign rally in Las Vegas, Nevada September 12, 2012.

KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS

Barack Obama – the apologist president? So goes Mitt Romney's depiction of his rival following attacks on U.S. embassies in Egypt and Libya.

"It's a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values," Mr. Romney told reporters Wednesday in Jacksonville, Florida.

The "apology," as it turned out, was a U.S. embassy statement out of Cairo that was interpreted by Mr. Romney as siding with anti-American protesters instead of standing up for American values of free speech. Mr. Romney said the President was responsible for the words of U.S. embassies.

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But it is by no means the first time Mr. Romney has attacked the President on this issue.

Even as the President is viewed by many Americans as holding an advantage over his rival when it comes to international affairs – the latest poll shows a 13-point Obama lead among surveyed voters – Mr. Romney has persisted with a critique of the President that goes back to the early days of the Obama presidency and key speeches in foreign capitals.

"Never before in American history has its president gone before so many foreign audiences to apologize for so many American misdeeds, both real and imagined," Mr. Romney writes in the opening chapter of his 2010 book No Apology.

"It is his way of signaling to foreign countries and foreign leaders that their dislike for America is something he understands and that is, at least in part, understandable. There are anti-American fires burning all across the globe; President Obama's words are like kindling to them," writes Mr. Romney.

Mr. Romney continued the line of attack during the Republican primaries – aided by GOP rivals Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.

In his speech at the Republican National Convention last month in Tampa Bay, Florida, Mr. Romney renewed the criticism.

"I will begin my presidency with a jobs tour. President Obama began with an apology tour. America, he said, had dictated to other nations. No, Mr. President, America has freed other nations from dictators," he told the audience.

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Mr. Romney's charges against Mr. Obama have come under scrutiny by fact-checking organizations.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning website Politifact.com analyzed seven speeches by Mr. Obama that have been highlighted by critics for being apologetic and concluded that the President never "used the word that is the universal hallmark of apologies: 'Sorry.'"

Let's take two Obama speeches that Mr. Romney has previously cited.

The President did, in fact, tell a town hall audience in France in April 2009 that the U.S. had shown "arrogance" and behaved in a "dismissive, even derisive" manner towards Europe. But, as Politifact.com points out, the President also reminded the audience that Europe had shown "casual" and "insidious" anti-Americanism.

Mr. Obama's 2009 speech at Cairo University – an attempt to speak directly to the Arab and Muslim world and reset relations following the George W. Bush presidency – included a recounting of the troubled history between the U.S. and Iran dating back to the 1950s and the overthrow of a democratically elected government.

"Rather than remain trapped in the past, I've made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward," said Mr. Obama.

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There is no apology to Iran and no "formal expression of regret," says Politicfact.com.

"Yes, there is criticism in some of his speeches, but it's typically leavened by praise for the United States and its ideals, and often he mentions other countries and how they have erred as well. There's not a full-throated, sincere apology in the bunch," the fact-checking website concludes.

Similar conclusions are reached by organizations like FactCheck.org – a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania – as well as the Washington Post's own fact-checking unit, which gave the Obama-the-apologist charge a "Four Pinocchios" rating in February 2011. "Note to GOP speechwriters and campaign ad makers: The apology tour never happened."

In the middle of a close presidential campaign, the critique of Mr. Obama as an apologist may not sway independents – many Americans view the President as a strong commander-in-chief for the operation that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden – but the apologist line continues to have strong traction among conservatives and the GOP base.

"We really do think his speech to Cairo after his entrance to the White House was part of a world apology tour. And we sure as hell think his actions in the past year to foster the Arab Spring were the actions of a naive fool," writes Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief of the conservative blog Red State .

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About the Author

Affan Chowdhry is the Globe's multimedia reporter specializing in foreign news. Prior to joining the Globe, he worked at the BBC World Service in London creating international news and current affairs programs and online content for a global audience. More

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