Robert Kagan trots out the very unpersuasive “credibility” argument once again:
As Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former Saudi intelligence chief, complained this past December, when American red lines become “pinkish” and “eventually end up completely white,” it creates an “issue of confidence” among U.S. allies. Nor was this reaction limited to the Middle East. The American decision reverberated across the planet, perhaps nowhere more so than in East Asia, where America’s willingness to use force is very much on the minds of allied governments as China voices its territorial claims against assorted neighbors ever more aggressively.
The Saudi complaint would be easier to take seriously if it weren’t such obviously self-interested griping on the part of a government that desperately wanted the U.S. to attack Syria. Of course the Saudis are going to say that the U.S. has hurt its standing with all of its allies and clients by not attacking Syria, because they want the U.S. to fight an unnecessary war for them. This has nothing in common with U.S. defense guarantees to genuine treaty allies. I doubt that anyone really believes that other governments view U.S. threats to attack another country to be the same as U.S. promises to defend allies against attack. There’s a world of difference between honoring treaty obligations to a long-time ally and taking unnecessary military action to back up something the president happened to say at a press conference, and it’s ridiculous to argue otherwise.
This is a transparently dishonest claim that supporters of a more aggressive Syria policy have promoted for months because they want to frighten Americans into thinking that not attacking Syria was more dangerous than attacking it. Despite having lost the debate, they keep trying to spin the outcome as a bad one. Their argument falls apart once it is subjected to a few minutes of scrutiny. Why would allies in East Asia want the U.S. to involve itself in yet another Near Eastern war? How could that possibly reassure them that the U.S. was in a stronger position to come to their aid militarily? Naturally, it couldn’t, and it’s strange to think that it could.