Dan de Luce and Molly O’Toole make some very questionable claims here:
Washington has steadily lost leverage in the Syrian civil war since Obama’s about-face in August 2013. After declaring that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime against civilians would represent a “red line,” Obama then declined to take military action against President Bashar al-Assad after he gassed his own people in the suburbs of Damascus.
That moment, which left U.S. allies bewildered and outraged, has come to define Obama’s handling of the Syrian war. Critics on the left and right say U.S. credibility writ large has been seriously damaged by the episode.
This is the conventional story of what happened, but most of it isn’t true. Most allies weren’t “bewildered” or “outraged,” and it is strange to think that they would be. Except for France, which was preparing to join in the proposed bombing, and perhaps Turkey, there was no treaty ally in the world that was disappointed by the decision not to attack. The governments that were most unhappy with the decision not to bomb were the Gulf states that hoped to get the U.S. sucked deeper into the Syrian civil war, but in that case our bad clients just wanted to get the U.S. to fight their war for them. Had the U.S. followed through with an attack on Syrian regime forces, the only ones to benefit would have been jihadist groups and the rebels that fight alongside them. For that matter, there were almost no critics on the left attacking the decision not to bomb, and almost no one outside of a small cadre of hard-liners still believes that U.S. “credibility” was damaged at all by that episode, much less seriously. No one can seriously argue that refusing to bomb Syria in 2013 had any negative effects elsewhere in the world, and the ridiculous attempts to make such arguments have all been debunked more than once.
The trouble isn’t just that these claims aren’t correct, but that they reinforce a thoroughly discredited idea that U.S. threats and promises around the world lose “credibility” if the U.S. doesn’t bomb other countries at every opportunity. This is one of the more pernicious and pervasive ideas in our foreign policy debates, and unfortunately it just won’t die. One might think that the total lack of evidence in favor of the argument would ensure its demise, but the “credibility” myth seems to thrive in the absence of any proof.