Credibility is Not a Good Reason to Attack Syria

Roundup: Media's Take
tags: foreign policy, Syria, diplomacy, foreign relations, credibility



Rajan Menon is a professor of political science at the City College of New York/City University of New York and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

What's striking about the debate over President Obama's plan for a punitive strike against Syrian President Bashar Assad is the extent to which it centers on countries other than Syria. There's a reason for this. A concept that has had a long, significant though subtle influence on U.S. foreign policy is at work again: credibility....

"Credibility" has great power in national security debates. It conveys strategic sagacity by using historical analogies. (Neville Chamberlain at Munich is a staple.) It warns of consequences that transcend specific nations or issues. It points to the "big picture" and to complex interconnections. It invokes the United States' unique responsibilities for maintaining global order....

The appeal to credibility has a long history in U.S. foreign policy. Consider Vietnam. We had to keep escalating and not quit — so it was said — because the Soviet Union and China would detect weakness and test the United States in various places (Berlin, Taiwan). Iraq's Saddam Hussein, the argument went, had to learn that President George W. Bush was not bluffing about using force to dismantle his (supposed) stockpile of weapons of mass destruction; it was not just about Iraq but also about North Korea and other "rogue states."...




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