"We the undersigned being cockroaches of imperialism, barbarian rats, loathsome stinkpots of the West do abase and prostrate ourselves before the People's Republic of China, and do abjectly, not to say nauseatingly apologize and beg forgiveness for our intrusion into the People's Airspace, which, we acknowledge, extends from your coasts, as you have said, one thousand miles in all directions, including up, and for the wanton running-doggery of flying our prop-driven spyplane into the path of one of your Chinese hero hotdogs, even as he was in the act of rushing serum back to Shanghai in order to save a dying orphan and sought to take a shortcut by slicing through the People's Airspace that was feloniously occupied at that instant by the nose of the American craft.
"We vermin therefore bow, kowtow, and otherwise grovel, and stretch our necks beneath the axblade of your wrath.
"But have mercy, keepers of the celestial hive! Take back thy campaign contributions! But stay the hand of thy anger, we beseech. Graciously condescend to accept these bleatings."
Would that be enough?
I once knew a man who was a heroic drunk. He left mess and destruction in his wake broken glasses, smashed furniture, bounced checks, bitter and exhausted wives. His motto, which he stole from the British classicist Benjamin Jowett, was a line he would slur grandly to the barroom after 10 or 12 drinks: "Never apologize! Never explain!"
But "never apologize" is a dullard's policy. The apology one of the more creative forms of human insincerity has a thousand inflections and subtle uses. It may, for example, be employed as a splendid instrument of reversal. Remember when Bill Clinton went through his apologizing phase? After a time, we wanted to plead with him to make up with Monica and resume the behavior for which he was begging forgiveness anything to shut him up.
It seems primitive and, in its way, hilarious that the Americans and Chinese should be stuck at the equivalent of Bugs and Daffy's "Duck Season! Wabbit Season!" a stalemated schoolyard argument. You will recall that in the cartoon, Bugs Bunny, the great American trickster, won that exchange by the simple expedient of reversing the order and insisting that it was, indeed, wabbit season. Which led the witless Duck to insist, in his turn, that it was, damn it, duck season. BLAM!
Therefore, let America reverse the schoolyard logic for an instant. Let George W. Bush apologize to the Chinese in a spirit of such spectacularly self-abasing contrition that Beijing will be left, like Daffy Duck, in a state of dazed perplexity, with its bill spinning.
For how is Beijing to reply to something like the piffle I have suggested above? By saying, "No, no, you don't mean it, you'll have to do better than that"?
If so, Washington would simply offer an even more floridly insincere apology one that would, between the lines, arraign the Chinese even more specifically for the stagey opportunism of their behavior.
How often would the Chinese come back to Bush demanding a new version?
How long could the Chinese endure the global humiliation of being apologized to?