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Apologizing for the Wrong Thing, Madame Secretary

July 23rd, 2009 - 12:29 am

You can learn strange things, poring over transcripts of remarks made by U.S. officials traveling abroad (we do this so you don’t have to). And so it was when I pulled up a transcript of remarks made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last weekend in Mumbai, India. These were the remarks in which, to the Obama administration’s growing list of apologies for the United States, Clinton added a U.S. apology to India for the climate of the planet:

“Our point is very simple: That we acknowledge, now with President Obama, that we have made mistakes — the United States — and we along with other developed countries, have contributed most significantly to the problems that we face with climate change.” (The main thing Clinton got for her pains was a demand from India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the West fork over almost $200 billion per year to the developing world to offset costs of cutting emissions).

Come again, Madame Secretary? You don’t have to love carbon to understand that there are tradeoffs in this world. While America’s free enterprise system has been emitting all that now-reviled carbon dioxide, it has also served as the world’s liveliest source of inventions for improving quality of life around the globe. The verdict of real science (as opposed to United Nations “consensus”) is still out on what causes climate change, or whether carbon dioxide has anything much to do with it. But in coping with a global climate that has been changing since before our ancestors crawled out of the primal soup, the best hope of mankind for adapting to the weather is not a global web of UN-driven caps and regulations, but precisely the kind of creativity and flexibility that has been the hallmark of the American system. It’s a terrible idea to constrain that, and it’s dangerously absurd to apologize for it. More on this in my column this week for Forbes.com , “Stop the Apologizing.”

In further remarks, Clinton responded to a press question about her meeting earlier in the day with a number of influential Indian business executives, include the head of Reliance Petroleum, which has served in the past as a major supplier to Iran of gasoline — a product for which Iran does not have enough refining capacity to meet its own domestic demands. Clinton was asked if she had discussed with these Indian executives the possibility of using gas exports as a lever against Iran. (Interest in such leverage has been simmering on Capitol Hill, and in response to this, Reliance recently halted gas exports to Iran. But the Obama administration, rather than talking up this example, or leaning on other suppliers to stop as well,  keeps skirting the issue, while trying to extend that hand to Tehran).

Clinton’s answer: A big shrug. She did not discuss it, and this is something ”we will look at later.” 

That’s one mixed up set of priorities. What America really ought to be sorry about is a foreign policy that apologizes for the weather, while ignoring a last, best hope for peacefully stopping the Iranian march toward nuclear crisis in the Middle East.

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