At some point when you were growing up, you probably had a tough time fitting in. Maybe the “cool group” of kids didn’t like you. Maybe that cute classmate who sat next to you in math wouldn’t talk to you. Perhaps you were popular and tried to reach out to that strange kid who ate his boogers, but he totally blew you off. You might have sought advice from your parents, who probably said something like, “Hey, all you can do is be yourself. If people don’t accept you for who you are, that’s their problem.”

I’m sure a mentor in President Barack Obama’s childhood told him something similar. Sadly, he seems to have forgotten this guidance on his recent trips abroad. Rather than urging foreign governments to accept the United States as it is, Obama is apologizing for his nation and trying to paint it as something it’s not. If Obama wants to improve foreign relations, speaking dishonestly about America isn’t the right place to start.

Before his important speech about Middle East-American relations in Cairo on Thursday, Obama said in an interview with a French television network, “If you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we’d be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.” But if you look at the range of differing estimates, America would be between the 20th- and 50th-largest.

Obama’s underlying point that the U.S. is a religiously diverse nation is true. But misrepresenting demographics is not how Obama should be promoting America’s religious freedom. In an e-mail to the Christian Broadcasting Network, Obama wrote that the U.S. is “no longer just a Christian nation.” He knows our country is not defined by the number of members in a certain faith. How many Muslims we actually have within our borders should be inconsequential against the important fact that America is a fair, nurturing country for all peaceful religions, regardless of their prevalence.

Similarly, Obama’s promise in Prague on Apr. 5 to “seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons” is another deliberate mischaracterization of America aimed to garner foreign support. Any reasonable person would agree that nuclear weapons are horrendous and should never be used. But America prides itself on responsible management of its nuclear arsenal. We keep bombs in order to deter the bad guys from using them. Pledging to rid the world of nuclear weapons is analogous to promising world peace — it’s not going to happen.

Instead of spouting pie-in-the-sky rhetoric while North Korea tests ballistic missiles, Obama should be working with foreign leaders to ensure that nuclear weapon technology doesn’t fall into the hands of those with dangerous intentions. That has been the policy of the U.S. since the Cold War, and despite Obama’s utopian dreams, he knows he will continue that policy. Why waste time trying to convince the world that America is going to do something it’s not?

In an interview on June 1 with the BBC’s Justin Webb, Obama claimed his speeches were about encouraging dialogue, rather than apologizing for the actions of the Bush administration. But in that same interview, Obama chastised America for imposing its values on other countries. Reading from a teleprompter in Strasbourg, France on April 3, Obama said, “In America, there’s a failure to appreciate Europe’s leading role in the world… America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.” That sounds apologetic to me. How often do you hear a foreign leader come to America and apologize for his or her country? You don’t, because they believe what they are doing is right. Obama should think the same way.

The American spirit isn’t one of arrogance. Americans are proud of what their country stands for, and foreign leaders will not be fooled by Obama’s attempts to make it seem otherwise. Obama needs to stop trying to make America appeal to other countries through misrepresentation. Instead, he should work to convince other nations to trust and respect the U.S. for what it is.

Chris Koslowski can be reached at cskoslow@umich.edu.

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