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“Credibility” hawks also have the bad habit of exaggerating the significance of the commitment that the U.S. made in the past to pretend that the supposed “credibility” gap is far greater than it is.
Consider the infamous “red line” over Syrian chemical weapons. It’s true that Obama shouldn’t have drawn this line, but he did so in such a vague, almost meaningless way that he had not really committed the U.S. to any particular course of action.
It was Syria hawks that latched onto the “red line” and declared that it was a promise to intervene militarily. Similarly, the U.S. had made no commitments to defend Ukraine, but by pretending that the U.S. was ignoring its commitments in the Budapest memorandum “credibility” hawks insisted on taking a harder line in the crisis so that real American security commitments elsewhere wouldn’t be undermined.
That’s how it often works: the “credibility” hawks insist on adding major new commitments that the U.S. never even contemplated having before, and then declare the entire alliance system and security of the planet at risk unless the rest of us agree with whatever reckless and unnecessary scheme they have devised. The “credibility” argument is nothing more than a scam, and we are the marks.
The American Conservative
Lincoln Chafee was the only Republican senator to vote against the Iraq War. Now neither a senator nor a Republican, the war is a major reason he is contemplating a run for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Although Iraq went unmentioned in a halting announcement video of sorts, Chafee has said Hillary Clinton's vote for the war is disqualifying and that the 2003 invasion helped trigger much of the chaos rippling through the rest of the world.
"I don't think anybody should be president of the United States that made that mistake," he told the Washington Post. "It's a huge mistake and we live with broad, broad ramifications today - of instability not only in the Middle East but far beyond and the loss of American credibility. There were no weapons of mass destruction."
August 11, 2014 | The American Conservative
Benjamin Friedman does a fine job of dismantling the "credibility" argument:
Historical studies show that leaders deciding whether to defy foreign threats focus on the balance of military power and the material interests of the threatening state, not on its opponent's record of carrying out past threats. Credibility doesn't travel well.
That is why the domino theory was wrong. Neither the West Europeans we were defending during the Cold War, nor their Warsaw Pact adversaries believed that U.S. withdrawal in Vietnam would mean U.S. abandonment of Europe's defense. The same goes for other U.S. military actions in the last several decades that ended badly-for example, the Marine deployment to Lebanon under President Reagan and the recent war in Iraq. Presidents initially offered big talk about goals. Later, we quit without having reached those goals. Contrary to claims of credibility hawks, other U.S. allies did not lose faith in American military power or come under attack from emboldened foes. Instead, new supplicants continued to ask for our help [bold mine-DL]. Often, when it was not forthcoming, or too limited for U.S. hawks, they insisted that we would lose credibility if we did not do more. They always proved wrong.
The strange thing is that "credibility" hawks' warnings continue to be taken seriously when, as Friedman says, they haven't ever been right. The fact that they've never been right should tell us that there is something inherently wrong with the concept they keep using. Considering how many times U.S. "credibility" has supposedly been shattered or ruined, it is remarkable how many dozens of eager would-be clients and long-standing allies still line up with Washington and fully expect the U.S. to protect them and/or do as they wish. Warning about "credibility" is a giveaway that the person issuing the warning has run out of persuasive arguments and has nothing else left. Friedman sums it up this way:
A good rule of thumb for foreign policy is that if someone tells you our credibility depends doing something, it's probably a bad idea.
This true not only because "credibility" hawks are always invoking credibility in order to justify more aggressive policies in places of little or no importance to the U.S., but because the reliance on the "credibility" argument is confirmation that these policies can't be defended on the merits. The arguments for deeper U.S. involvement in conflicts that are at best tangentially related to U.S. vital interests are not compelling ones, which is why the "credibility" argument is used so often in these debates. "You may not agree with doing X, but you don't want to risk encouraging a North Korean invasion, do you?" At its core, the "credibility" argument is a sort of extortion: if you don't agree to do what the hawks prefer in one place, your actual allies somewhere else are supposedly going to get hurt. This should alert us to the weakness of the policy arguments, but instead many Americans allow themselves to be tricked into letting "credibility" concerns overrule all of their objections.
"Credibility" hawks also have the bad habit of exaggerating the significance of the commitment that the U.S. made in the past to pretend that the supposed "credibility" gap is far greater than it is. Consider the infamous "red line" over Syrian chemical weapons. It's true that Obama shouldn't have drawn this line, but he did so in such a vague, almost meaningless way that he had not really committed the U.S. to any particular course of action. It was Syria hawks that latched onto the "red line" and declared that it was a promise to intervene militarily. Similarly, the U.S. had made no commitments to defend Ukraine, but by pretending that the U.S. was ignoring its commitments in the Budapest memorandum "credibility" hawks insisted on taking a harder line in the crisis so that real American security commitments elsewhere wouldn't be undermined. That's how it often works: the "credibility" hawks insist on adding major new commitments that the U.S. never even contemplated having before, and then declare the entire alliance system and security of the planet at risk unless the rest of us agree with whatever reckless and unnecessary scheme they have devised. The "credibility" argument is nothing more than a scam, and we are the marks.
The Weekly Standar
he American interest in choosing sides is, admittedly, difficult to identify. But intervention is necessary for one good reason with historical resonance: American credibility. This is no trivial matter. As the British Parliament demonstrated last week, there is no will in the world to protect human rights, or to enforce what passes for international law, in the absence of American leadership. If President Putin in Moscow and President Xi in Beijing, not to mention President Assad in Damascus, recognize that the United States is retreating from its global commitments, they will hasten to fill the vacuum. This will not absolve the United States and its war-weary people from responsibility, and afford us a well-earned rest; it will make the world a more dangerous place, less stable, surely more perilous for democracy and free peoples. In practical terms, we cannot allow Bashir Assad to deploy chemical weapons, and promote regional chaos, without paying a price in authority, credibility, and above all, safety.
I say this, incidentally, as one with mixed feelings about the practical consequences of the Syrian conflict. Relatives of my paternal grandmother, fleeing from the Armenian genocide, managed to cross the Anatolian wasteland on foot at the end of World War I, and landed, along with thousands of other Armenians, in Aleppo, across the border from Turkey in northwest Syria. There they remained, and prospered -- until now.
Because the Ba'ath Party in Syria is secular, and the Assads (as Alawites) are members of a religious minority, Christians have been comparatively unmolested in Syria since Armenians sought refuge there a century ago. No longer.
Whatever the consequences of this civil war, there will be no protection for Aleppo's Christians from distant Damascus, and Islamist rebels are committed to ending Christianity's 2,000-year-old presence in Syria. I have no idea what has happened to these distant relations, and can only hope they have found refuge elsewhere.
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