Gideon Rachman describes another version of the bad “credibility” argument for intervention in Syria:
However, a familiar coalition of liberal hawks and Middle East hands is now pushing the president towards intervention in Syria. One pro-interventionist turns the argument for the “pivot to Asia” on its head – arguing that if the US does not act in Syria, its Asian allies will conclude that America has lost the will to be a great power [bold mine-DL].
Yet, if that were the case, one might expect China to fear a decisive display of US might in the Middle East. China certainly opposes outside intervention in Syria on principle. But the country’s strategic thinkers would welcome any sign that the US is losing interest in the pivot to Asia.
The more that one thinks about these “credibility” arguments for unnecessary war, the worse they seem. A Syrian war would not convince allies in Asia that the U.S. possesses the “will” to be a great power, which is not seriously in doubt, but it could make them question the sanity and intelligence of the people in our government. The U.S. has waged at least three wars in the last twelve years, and two of them were not necessary. If unnecessary wars were required to reassure allies, the U.S. has already more than its share of reassuring in this century. A fourth war is not needed for this.
Military action in Syria won’t be reassuring to friendly states in other parts of the world, since it will demonstrate an impressive American inability to avoid new wars in the Near East. Asian allies will rightly perceive it as a needless distraction and a diversion of limited U.S. resources. Most European allies aren’t going to be gladdened by a Syrian war, since there is the danger that some of them will eventually be pulled into the conflict in one way or another in the name of allied solidarity. There would be nothing more ridiculous and embarrassing for the U.S. than to be drawn into a war in Syria that it has no reason to fight simply for the sake of retaining “credibility” that isn’t in doubt.