Dov Zakheim makes one of the more alarmist arguments that Tea Party Republicans are jeopardizing U.S. credibility:
Some long-standing American allies and friends may tolerate Congressional behavior as a peculiar Washington peccadillo, but others may not. In particular, Asian states, already doubtful that there will ever be an American “pivot” to their part of the world, may become more willing to give way to China, including its claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea. Some Middle Eastern allies may seek to enhance their relations with Iran, as is already the case with Turkey. Others in the region may increasingly look to Russia and China as their primary arms suppliers, thereby reducing America’s ability to support what is left of a stable Middle Eastern order, and, for that matter, to help deter threats against Israel, for whose defense Senator Cruz wins awards. Even some European states may seek to accommodate an increasingly assertive Russia, given their perception of American unreliability.
The genius of this kind of alarmism is that it can be applied to almost any situation. The fatal flaw is that it is so unreasonable that it can’t be taken seriously. Just as “credibility” arguments during the Syria debate made no sense, they remain thoroughly unpersuasive now. It is tempting for internationalists of a certain stripe to think that every political dispute in the U.S. has broader implications for the world, but it is rarely ever the case that other states will significantly change their foreign policy orientation simply because America’s federal government is going through a period of dysfunction.
Is it at all likely that China’s Asia neighbors will yield to Chinese territorial claims because of partisan squabbles in D.C.? To believe this is possible, one has to think that other states define their national interests by what happens in American domestic politics. Could there be a more arrogant and America-centric view of international affairs? It should go without saying, but U.S. reliability as an ally or patron does not hinge on avoiding government shutdowns. Government shutdowns aren’t desirable, and this one should have been avoided, but they don’t have the consequences that Zakheim imagines.
For example, is Japan’s government going to conclude that the alliance with America is now less reliable because our major parties are at odds over health care legislation and fiscal policy? To ask the question is to acknowledge that the worry is unfounded. Which government is going to seek rapprochement with Iran because of this? These warnings only appear credible because they are vague, and they fall apart as soon as they are made specific. Can anyone imagine the government of a Baltic country saying, “Well, America has pledged to defend us from foreign attack, and we don’t want to be in Moscow’s orbit, but the Americans are disagreeing with each other on domestic policy so we had better just give up now”? No, of course not.