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No War for “Credibility”

Anne-Marie Slaughter relies [1] heavily on the “credibility” argument for Syrian intervention:

U.S. credibility is on the line. For all the temptation to hide behind the decision to invade Iraq based on faulty intelligence about weapons of mass destruction, Obama must realize the tremendous damage he will do to the United States and to his legacy if he fails to act. He should understand the deep and lasting damage done when the gap between words and deeds becomes too great to ignore, when those who wield power are exposed as not saying what they mean or meaning what they say.

Not one of these claims is true in this case. It is foolish to promise U.S. action and fail to fulfill that promise, but in the Syrian case it is not yet clear that such action is needed, nor is it clear what action was actually promised. I don’t know what may happen to Obama’s “legacy,” and frankly it doesn’t interest me. I am sure that it will not do “tremendous damage” to the United States if Obama chooses not to ensnare us in yet another dumb war. I suspect that the U.S. will not suffer much damage to its credibility, either.

Consider the effects on U.S. credibility from the invasion of Iraq. No one can say that the Bush administration didn’t follow through on its threat to go to war. Bush meant what he said when he said that the U.S. would invade Iraq and depose Hussein. U.S. credibility was not maintained by Bush’s decision to follow through on the threat. Instead, the already weak justification for war was exposed as false, and the decision to invade damaged the country’s reputation around the world. If it turned out that sarin was used by accident or its use wasn’t authorized by the regime, and the administration makes the error of heeding the calls for war, everyone now clamoring for a Syrian war will look as ridiculous as all of the Iraq war hawks did when the promised weapons and weapons programs were nowhere to be found. Following through on threatened action can still be a horrible blunder if the action is foolish and reckless. When contemplating starting a war, it is always far better to err on the side of restraint. Considering how limited the supposed use of sarin in Syria has been and how uncertain the evidence for this use is, the eagerness with which so many interventionists from both parties are seizing on this as the excuse for war is horrifying.

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17 Comments To "No War for “Credibility”"

#1 Comment By Mikhail the History Grad Student On April 30, 2013 @ 9:55 am

You would think that three wars in thirteen years would be enough for anyone.

#2 Comment By EngineerScotty On April 30, 2013 @ 10:19 am

Surely with the sequester on, military action is out of the question.

#3 Comment By dSquib On April 30, 2013 @ 10:33 am

If Slaughter AM believes that the Iraq war would have been a good idea if only the intelligence around WMD had not been “faulty”, there’s not much to be said. Similarly, whether or not Assad has used sarin makes little difference, except that possibly Obama has implied it would. That really is the way these people think. Obama laid out a hypothetical case for “action” which, Slaughter AM believes, has been met, therefore we must go to war. Regardless of the merits of intervention.

These arguments are in the same neighbourhood as the ones about how every now and then we need pick up some puny country and throw it against the wall, to show we are serious. Despite decades of war US credibility is forever “on the line” because Rwanda.

#4 Comment By Jim Dooley On April 30, 2013 @ 10:55 am

I frankly do not recall whether the “credibility” rationale as such was employed in 1956 and 1968. There was surely some sentiment then that we ought to do something despite the fact that the Soviets were acting within the Bloc. I doubt that today anyone would seriously argue that we should have done anything more than we did – offer moral support and behave with restraint in our own, and ultimately, the world’s interest.
Nobody has any idea whatever what happens in Syria and the Middle East if we do something to do something by way of intervention in Syria’s civil war. Doing something would be only the first step before casting around for what to do next. Any official in government who argues that the United States should go to war because our credibility demands it should be fired on the spot.
We’re my son in the military and he told me that he was going to fight in Syria for America’s credibility, I would advise him to desert.

#5 Comment By arrScott On April 30, 2013 @ 11:06 am

I propose a new conservative criterion for judging calls for war – ahem, I mean, “action”: Has the speaker first proposed specific tax increases to pay for the proposed military adventure? If not, then it is not political advocacy, it is fantasy fiction. If you would will any government action, you must first will the collection of resources sufficient to fund the action.

#6 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 30, 2013 @ 11:11 am

“We’re my son in the military and he told me that he was going to fight in Syria for America’s credibility, I would advise him to desert.”

That is disappointing to read.

#7 Comment By Mr. Patrick On April 30, 2013 @ 11:36 am

Killing for credibility isn’t that impossibly wrong-headed. The problem is that the credible threat we’d supposedly maintain by intervening in Syria isn’t retaliation for shedding American blood.

#8 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 30, 2013 @ 12:19 pm

There is no greater assest than one’s credibility. Since I have accounted little to this particular wh occupant, there is no telling what pressure he will succumb to — seemingly that he has no will or or thought about what the country ought to be of his own accord.

As for Syria,

I held out hope for not going to Iraq. Who knows.

#9 Comment By John On April 30, 2013 @ 12:29 pm

The column’s title demands that we should remember Rwanda when thinking of Syria. I agree, only for the reason that hundreds of thousands of people died in Rwanda with no impact either on American security or the missions in Croatia and Bosnia three years later that put Serbia on its back within weeks.

America is good at killing. Nobody seriously doubts it. I think our standing in the world would be enhanced by reserving that skill at killing for moments when it serves to protect Americans directly, but that’s why I’m a mere commenter here and Anne-Marie Slaughter is a columnist at the Washington Post.

#10 Comment By Charlieford On April 30, 2013 @ 12:55 pm

Our “credibility” has hardly been enhanced by the spectacles of Iraq and Afghanistan. Just the opposite.

“We will weaken ourselves,” Walter Lippmann warned just before we dove into Vietnam.

Where did we get the idea that war makes a nation stronger? It’s just a lie.

#11 Comment By James Canning On April 30, 2013 @ 2:27 pm

Charlieford – -Yes, the US foolishly weakened itself, with Lyndon Johnson’s ill-conceived gigantic land war on the Asian mainland.

Joe Alsop shrieked time and again, US “credibility” was on the line. Send in scores more thousands of troops.

And LBJ had worried about getting the US into another Korean War!

#12 Comment By James Canning On April 30, 2013 @ 2:29 pm

John – – Anne-Marie Slaughter teaches foreign policy at Princeton. And of course has opinion pieces in many newspapers.

#13 Comment By James Canning On April 30, 2013 @ 2:30 pm

John – – And hundreds of thousands have been killed in the Congo, with its multiple civil wars etc etc etc. Former Zaire.

#14 Comment By cameyer On April 30, 2013 @ 3:32 pm

This war could have been stopped in its inception. Russia’s plan for a cease-fire emphasized stopping the killing and bringing the parties together. The US insisted that Assad be removed, even though the local coordinating councils, at the time, indicated they didn’t necessarily think Assad had to be removed or exiled (I forgot which.)

This from the WSJ today: Mr. Khatib (resigned as head of Syrian Opposition Coalition) has expressed a willingness to communicate with Mr. Assad’s government to seek a diplomatic end of the war, say U.S., European and Arab officials. But Qatar has aggressively opposed any outreach to the Assad regime and has supported the candidacy of another opposition leader, Ghassan Hitto,

This is a tragedy. Unfortunately the Arab countries and Turkey are split on what to do except ‘arm the opposition’ and support their own faction in the process. If it’s true that the Opposition Coalition would consider a diplomatic end to the war, the US should ‘cave to’ Russia in pushing a cease fire and negotiations without the mandate to Assad and pull the rug from under the Arab states’ game-of-thrones.

#15 Comment By Briefheart, Q. C. On May 1, 2013 @ 12:00 am

“He should understand the deep and lasting damage done when the gap between words and deeds becomes too great to ignore, when those who wield power are exposed as not saying what they mean or meaning what they say.”

Is Slaughter really unaware that the biggest “gap between words and deeds” comes after high-minded intervention has transformed some localized nightmare into a sprawling living hell?

#16 Comment By as I do not as I say On May 1, 2013 @ 10:24 am

“He should understand the deep and lasting damage done when the gap between words and deeds becomes too great to ignore, when those who wield power are exposed as not saying what they mean or meaning what they say.”

You mean like the Clintons, who gawked and mouthed empty pieties during the Rwandan genocide? Last time I checked they were still welcome at Davos … and Syria is a pillow fight compared to Rwanda.

#17 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 1, 2013 @ 10:39 am

A man who campaigns on countermanding the policies of the previous admin then when in offoce expands them including greater use even in the United States already has a credibility gap.

A man who campaigns against the supposed unfair capitalism then poroceeds to aling himself with the very entities that created the problem not only support for their bail out, but failing to advance any penalties or provisions to prevent the damaging behavior —

already has a credibility gap.