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The Bogus ‘Credibility’ Argument Returns

Trump reportedly deferred to Mattis’ advice [1] and ordered a smaller attack on Syria than he and Bolton had originally wanted:

President Donald Trump deferred to his Pentagon chief’s caution and tempered his preference for a more robust attack on Syria over allegations it used deadly gas on civilians, the first hints at the direction of his revamped national-security team.

It is better that Mattis’ view prevailed over Bolton’s, but one problem with taking any military action in response to demands to “do something” is that there will always be a chorus of hard-liners demanding that the U.S. “do more” than it already has. Once a president has conceded that military action is an appropriate response to a foreign government’s behavior, he has put himself in a trap of his own making. When the first strikes don’t “work” or are deemed to be inadequate to “get the job done,” the pressure to escalate increases. Since Trump is especially sensitive to accusations of looking “weak,” he is probably more likely than most presidents to listen to the hard-liners that fault him for not doing enough in Syria. It makes me wonder how long Mattis can hold off the president when Bolton is going to keep agitating for more aggressive actions.

Marc Thiessen complains [2] that Trump should have done far more than he did:

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But let’s be clear: Friday night’s strikes were “just muscular enough not to get mocked.” As a result, they did more damage to the United States’ credibility on the world stage than they did to the Assad regime [bold mine-DL].

Hawks invoke “credibility” when they want to attack someone, and then even when the attack happens they will claim that it undermines “credibility” because it wasn’t big enough. Following through on unnecessary threats with illegal military action isn’t enough for the “credibility”-obsessed, because they are simply using “credibility” as an excuse to plunge the U.S. into more conflicts. If a limited U.S. military action doesn’t get them that, they will insist on more and bigger attacks until they get the war they want. While sane people everywhere were relieved that last week’s attack was small and didn’t provoke retaliation, quite a few hawks were dismayed for the same reasons.

Thiessen continues:

Far from being chastened, the U.S. response will embolden Assad, Russia and Iran. And it will embolden other U.S. adversaries as well.

Trump’s attack on Syria last week was illegal and useless, but it is very doubtful that it will have the effect Thiessen describes here. The people that use the bogus “credibility” argument don’t understand how states actually judge these things [3] in the real world, and so they always predict that any action that isn’t aggressive enough for them will “embolden” every adversary in the world. Curiously, this never happens, and the people obsessed with “credibility” are never held accountable for their shoddy analysis. Just as the so-called “red line” episode didn’t make U.S. adversaries more aggressive than they already were, this attack will have no discernible effect on their behavior, either. The danger is that the president listens to some version of these garbage arguments and concludes that he needs to “do more” by launching larger attacks.

5 Comments (Open | Close)

5 Comments To "The Bogus ‘Credibility’ Argument Returns"

#1 Comment By Cynthia McLean On April 16, 2018 @ 1:25 pm

US “credibility” as a Benevolent, Just and Righteous nation went down the drain in 2003 with its invasion of Iraq, 15 years of subsequent regime change, and supplying jiahdis with weapons of mass destruction. The neo-cons still want regime change, Syrian oil and the world to kowtow to its “exceptional” killing machine.

#2 Comment By Clyde Schechter On April 16, 2018 @ 6:00 pm

“Curiously, this never happens, and the people obsessed with “credibility” are never held accountable for their shoddy analysis.”

Neocons are never held accountable for anything! If they were, instead of dominating Washington they’d be collecting unemployment.

#3 Comment By Jack On April 16, 2018 @ 6:52 pm

John Bolton is a menace and a grave danger. He must be stopped.

#4 Comment By Scout’s Honor On April 16, 2018 @ 6:54 pm

And of course we must tell falsehoods to justify the ineffectual air strikes that are crucial to our credibility.

#5 Comment By b. On April 18, 2018 @ 1:31 pm

“Just as the so-called “red line” episode didn’t make U.S. adversaries more aggressive than they already were, this attack will have no discernible effect on their behavior, either. The danger is that the president listens to some version of these garbage arguments and concludes that he needs to “do more” by launching larger attacks.”

This may or may not be true – “red line enforcement” lends itself to claims that it should be credited with everything that did not happen afterwards for as long as it did not happen, regardless of causation.

But it is an example of the fundamental structure of the profit extraction cons that power the congressional-military-industrial complex. Just like the “war on terror”, undertaking the impossible – which can only fail if we lack “power of will” – means that failure is another argument for the Insanity Option – do more of the same. If US aggression fails to extract compliance, undoubtedly that is the most powerful argument to “double down” all the way to the bottom. This is not a bug, it is not even a flaw in the “reasoning” of those that push what are essentially just devices of rhetorics, tried and true lines of BS that deliver “persuasion” or just cover for elected representatives to pretend they are “persuaded” against their better judgement and the will of the people they represent. It is *the* core feature of any successful, sustainable profit extraction scam to mine the resources that inevitably have to be acquired and allocated in the process of governance – it is unassailably self-reinforcing once you buy into the premise that “defense” is “security” is “national interest” is best accomplished by unipolar prevemption.

Thiesen is just another carnival barker spreading the cant. You have to follow the money to find those that determine which scores and hymns are written.