Saturday, September 07, 2013

Attacking Syria for "credibility"

One of the main arguments the Obama Administration and its supporters are using to rally public and Congressional support for a military attack on Syria, a country that has never attacked the United States, is "credibility."

The gist of the argument, such as it is: Obama made a foolish commitment to a "red line" over Syria's use of chemical weapons with unspecified consequences, so now the US has to undertake a foolish, risky and illegal military attack to reinforce Obama's credibility.

Helena Cobban looks at this argument in The credibility trap Aljazeera America 09/05/2013:

Others have echoed [John] Kerry’s and [columnist David] Ignatius' claims that the U.S. response to Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons should be guided primarily by the need to shore up the "credibility" of U.S. power. This is a dangerous and potentially self-defeating claim. Such an action will do nothing to help Syria's war-ravaged people. It will exacerbate tensions, complicate the search for a negotiated peace and consign Syria's people to further long months or years of war. In fact, there is no more effective way to undermine U.S. credibility than a unilateral military assault intended to establish credibility.

The whole argument about needing to demonstrate the United States' military commitment is a canard. No one doubts the lethal and destructive capabilities of the U.S. arsenal — or the willingness of U.S. leaders to use this power under many circumstances. What many people both inside and outside the United States doubt, however, is the wisdom with which U.S. administrations have used it in the past, and with which they may use it in the future. A large proportion of the world’s people — though a smaller percentage here in the United States — also doubt the morality with which Washington employs its military.

Granted, it would be somewhat embarrassing for the president to step back from the "red line" on Syria's use of chemical weapons that he has reaffirmed over recent months. But the president has made other public commitments that have gone fulfilled — for instance, the vow he made early in his first term to close the Guantanamo Bay prison within 12 months. That promise has moldered unimplemented ever since, with strong consequences for the worldwide credibility of the United States — not that many government officials seem to have paid much heed. [my emphasis]
She concludes:

Indeed, the whole concept of a single state taking it upon itself to deliver a military "punishment" to a distant and much weaker country, absent any enabling resolutions from the United Nations, seems like an instance of behavior that the United Nations was set up to prevent.

An American strike against Syria is unlikely to help the Syrian people. And if it demonstrates anything to the rest of the world about the nature of American power, it is most likely to reaffirm to most of humankind the lesson that the invasion of Iraq sent them 10 years ago: that what the United States has in military power, it lacks in wisdom, self-restraint and morality.
I'm not sure why she uses "seems like" there. It is an illegal act - and was before the UN was established - and clearly is that "behavior that the United Nations was set up to prevent."

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