April 23, 2015
This morning, news broke that two hostages held captive by al Qaeda, an Italian and an American, had been killed during a U.S.-led counterterrorism operation in January of this year. The loss of any hostage comes as shock to our conscience, even at a time when that shock is more frequent than ever before. But the loss of two during an operation meant to prevent a future where those events are more common seems especially cruel.
A cruelty that was felt in President Obama’s statement on the tragedy this morning.
President Obama has a manner of speaking that is reserved, solemn, and measured, even in the wake of tragedy or scandal. And to many, it comes across as unfeeling. But the language he chose in today’s statement, I believe, erases that critique.
Something about this apology made it stand out from the wave of public apologies we’ve heard from corporations, brands, and public figures. Something beyond just the severity and tragedy of this particular situation.
It was the humanity Obama brought to an apology for unbelievably personal heartbreak caused by something designed to be cloaked in secrecy and as impersonal as possible: a CIA-conducted drone strike.
From his grounding of the statement in the pain the Weinstein and Lo Porto families are enduring, to his own acknowledgement and acceptance of full responsibility, to his recognition of the painfully unique tragedies that occur in the “fog of war,” Obama reminds us all what this is an apology for: a personal loss, not just a military mistake.
There was no large attempt to paint it as a loss for the sake of a larger goal. No statements of pride in the success of similar past operations. Obama provides details on the operation because the families of Weinstein and Lo Porto “deserve to know the truth”—not because he chose to defend the operation.
For a long time, we’ve been attempting to navigate a world where we hope our actions save more lives than they end—something that isn’t so simple to measure. And too often, in an attempt to make the case for our actions, our language reverts back to higher goals and instructional references.
Today, President Obama didn’t try to make the case: he acknowledged where we, and he, have failed—and the individual consequences these mistake have. How our “determination to protect innocent life only makes the loss of these two men especially painful for all of us.”