Daryl Press and Jennifer Lind dismantle the “credibility” argument for intervention in Syria:

Advocates of intervention in Syria worry that a failure to act will embolden U.S. adversaries around the world. But if Kim Jong Un is trying to figure out whether or not the United States would defend South Korea, he will notice that Washington and Seoul have been allies for more than six decades, and that with the rise of China, the United States is increasing its focus on East Asia. The notion that Kim would interpret U.S. reluctance to stop a humanitarian disaster in Syria as a green light to conquer a major U.S. ally strains credulity [bold mine-DL].

Similarly, leaders in Tehran assessing U.S. threats to strike their nuclear facilities will weigh America’s clear interest in nuclear nonproliferation against the real limitations of airstrikes against Iran’s deeply buried nuclear facilities. American reluctance to support various extremist rebels in Syria is unlikely to enter into Iran’s calculus.

This is very similar to what I was saying on this subject in the last week or so. It never made sense that a handful of vaguely-worded presidential warnings should be treated as having the same weight as long-standing U.S. policies and decades-old treaty commitments, but to take the “credibility” argument seriously that is what one would have to do. It’s also difficult to see how the U.S. ability to deter attack depends on our government’s willingness to start new wars. Besides, no one can look back at the last twenty years of U.S. policies overseas and conclude that American presidents are averse to using force when they deem it appropriate.

It is significant that so many interventionists have been reduced to making a claim as weak and unpersuasive as the appeal to “credibility.” While the administration’s “red line” error created the opening for critics to make this argument, it seems to me that it is backfiring on advocates for war in Syria. It conveys just how desperate some interventionists are to find any reason to get the U.S. into another conflict. Warning about lost “credibility” is an admission that the case for intervention on its own doesn’t withstand serious scrutiny. Advocates for war in Syria feel compelled to link their cause with other entirely unrelated security issues elsewhere in the world in an effort to frighten skeptics into supporting a bad policy that most Americans reject. U.S. interests in and around Syria aren’t important enough to warrant military action, and Syria hawks are indirectly acknowledging as much with this new fixation on preserving “credibility” that isn’t in danger of being lost.