The credibility crisis can’t be solved with Tomahawk missiles

posted at 12:01 pm on September 5, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

The Obama administration has stumbled from one credibility crisis to the next on Syria, and now wants Congress to rescue Barack Obama from himself.  Obama declares that the stated policy of the United States toward Syria is regime change, then dithers on how to effect it.  Obama draws a red line, and then does nothing at all to prepare for the possibility that Bashar al-Assad might call his bluff.

This credibility crisis goes beyond Syria, however, and extends to the whole Arab Spring, for which Obama seemed all too pleased to take credit not terribly long ago.  He demanded Hosni Mubarak’s ouster and quick elections in Egypt, which turned a stable American ally into a barely-contained disaster, and then has vacillated ever since on how to handle the crisis.  Obama then led a NATO intervention in Libya while claiming not to want regime change, but ended up decapitating the Qaddafi regime anyway.  That replaced a brutal dictatorship that was still cooperating with the West on counter-terrorism into a failed state that has allowed for a rapid expansion of radical Islamist terror networks through the whole region.

Now Obama wants to apply the Libya model to Syria, but cannot articulate a single American interest in launching a war.  Syria has not attacked American interests or allies, nor is likely to do so.  The most effective elements of the opposition in Syria are comprised of the very terrorist networks that we are presently fighting ourselves.  Obama even backed away from his own red line, claiming that “the world” set it in its opposition to chemical weapons, but as I note in my column for The Fiscal Times today, there is no global “red line” for military intervention as Obama claims:

The idea that the “world” has set a red line requiring military intervention after the use of chemical weapons is rather strange, and has no historical precedent.  Chemical weapons have had a number of deployments since the 1925 Geneva Protocol (affirmed unanimously by the UN General Assembly in 1966) that first banned their use without any such response.

Iraq used chemical weapons in two 1987 attacks during their eight-year war against Iran without any outside intervention. Libya used chemical weapons against Chad in the same year, again with no outside intervention.  Most infamously, Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons as a means of genocide against the Kurds in Halabja in 1988, killing more than 5,000 non-combatants, without any international military response (although it was one of the many justifications used by the US and UN in 1991 for Operation Desert Storm and in 2003’s second invasion of Iraq).  One can certainly argue that all of these incidents called for American or global intervention, but not that the world laid down a red line for armed response to their use.

There are no global “red lines” for military intervention in this case, even with the United Nations, which is balking at military strikes in Syria.  That wouldn’t matter if vital national security issues were at stake in Syria, but they’re not, and the Obama administration isn’t even bothering to pretend there are.  The only substantial argument is the danger to American credibility for not following through on a red-line threat, and that danger is not insubstantial.  However, that’s not really the danger to American credibility, which is why missile strikes won’t solve the problem:

Finally, we come to the argument that Obama’s red line requires us to salvage his credibility, or risk rogue nations like Iran assuming that the US is nothing but a paper tiger. This is really the only argument that makes any sense at all; there is little doubt that damage to our credibility, especially in that region, is dangerous and could cost lives.  However, that argument requires us to conduct acts of war literally for the sake of conducting acts of war, while announcing that we don’t intend to actually change the conditions in Syria as a result.

That’s not an argument that will restore American credibility, especially since our stated policy toward Syria is that of regime change. If we lob bombs into Damascus and claim that we aren’t trying to change the regime, not only will no one take that seriously, Assad’s potential survival would compound the problem that Obama seeks to cure through military action now.

The root of Obama’s credibility problem cannot be solved by cruise missiles. Obama offered a boast a year ago with his red-line statement, and then clearly did nothing in the following year to set the stage for an international response to Assad for crossing it. As this week has proven, Obama didn’t even bother to engage Congress until it became clear that voters overwhelmingly oppose his rush to military action. Isolated on the international stage and under political fire at home, Obama now won’t even claim ownership of his own red line.

The likeliest outcome of sustained American strikes on Assad’s regime is that the field will tilt to the benefit of the radical Islamists on the ground in Syria, just as it has in Libya.  That is the bottom line, and that is why Congress should refuse to authorize a war against Syria.

As for our credibility issues, those will be with us as long as President Obama remains in office.  The 22nd Amendment already provides the resolution to that problem, and voters will have to take responsibility for restoring American credibility and foreign-policy wisdom in November 2016.


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Bmore on September 5, 2013 at 4:32 PM

But if you want to now let Assad off, scot-free, “no big deal,” think about the message you send. No one will ever again feel any intimidation or deterrence over what we might do if they used the stuff. We’re saying this is the new world of warfare, not our problem.

Great, Obama has transformed conservatives into a bunch of freakin’ hippies.

Adjoran on September 5, 2013 at 4:05 PM

Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn what Muslims do to one another.

From at least the 1970s, the US has intervened and/or ‘liberated’ millions of Muslims. In return, we have not only earned their ungratefulness, but outright hatred and disdain.

F*ck ’em.

Resist We Much on September 5, 2013 at 4:36 PM

Resist We Much on September 5, 2013 at 4:36 PM

I’m with you. Let them stay busy butchering each other. Only when they try to butcher us should we do them.

Bmore on September 5, 2013 at 4:40 PM

Dasher on September 5, 2013 at 4:31 PM

Ever see the movie Judgement at Nuremberg? Came out in the early 60’s. There is a scene in court where a German, Montgomery Clift, is asked by the American prosecutor, Richard Widmark, to form a sentence out of the words hunter, hare, and field.

He cannot, he tries, but simply cannot…ends the scene with a pained cry of “I am not feeble minded!”

Ummm, that would be Chuck Hagel…our Defense Secretary.

Much as I have loathed John F’n Kerry since the early 1970’s…he’s not as bad as Chuck would be at this juncture. Which is why Kerry is “carrying the ball” (bad pun, CW, bad pun...) and not Chuck. if Chuck were out there leading the charge…we’d have stood down before last Friday was out…and there’d be Congressionally mandated competency hearings for most if not all Team Obama.

coldwarrior on September 5, 2013 at 4:45 PM

It’s about saving the face Obama no longer has in the World (outside of the 90210 zip code). If you wrote this as fiction, nobody would believe it.

IndieDogg on September 5, 2013 at 4:22 PM
But the reality is, the damage is already done. Firing missiles into the desert is not going to undo the damage to Obama’s credibility. It might rally his base around him here at home (yay!! look how tough and commander in chiefy O! is!!”). But Russia, China, Syria, Iran, and every other nation is going to still consider him a weak idiot.

Monkeytoe on September 5, 2013 at 4:27 PM

Pretty freaking pathetic, huh?

I don’t think his ego is going to survive this. He might just feign illness and step down – it’s the only thing he can do now to save face. He’s like the Anthony Weiner of the Universe.

So sad.

Key West Reader on September 5, 2013 at 4:54 PM

we should have more assads. encourage him. have all the sunnis take out all the shia. we’re halfway to a peaceful world. as only muslims threaten world “peace” anymore. and does anyone doubt at some point theres going to be a final solution of the muslim problem? theres either going to BE the caliphate OR a whole lot less muslims.

t8stlikchkn on September 5, 2013 at 4:58 PM

And, let’s talk about that ‘credibility’…

Old & Busted ‘Smart Power’:

‘We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change MY calculus. That would change MY equation.’

– President Barack Obama, 20 August 2012

‘We go on to reaffirm that the President has set a clear red line as it relates to the United States that the use of chemical weapons or the transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist groups is a red line that is not acceptable to us, nor should it be to the international community. It’s precisely because we take this red line so seriously that we believe there is an obligation to fully investigate any and all evidence of chemical weapons use within Syria.’

– ‘White House Official,’ 25 April 2013

‘The President’s use of the term red line was deliberate and was based on U.S. policy. The world knew that the Syrian government possessed chemical weapons, and we had a concern that as the regime was increasingly beleaguered, it might use chemical weapons against the Syrian people in desperation. The message that the President delivered that day was the same message that he was delivering in private. It was one that he and others in the administration have reinforced on multiple occasions ever since.’

– White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, 6 May 2013

New, ‘Competent’ Hotness:

‘I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line.’

– President Barack Obama, 4 September 2013

Resist We Much on September 5, 2013 at 4:58 PM

t8stlikchkn on September 5, 2013 at 4:58 PM

Someone please go get The Hammer.

Key West Reader on September 5, 2013 at 5:06 PM

Key West Reader on September 5, 2013 at 5:06 PM

Not worth the swing, that one. ; )

Bmore on September 5, 2013 at 5:15 PM

‘I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line.’ The red line drew itself (or aternatively: the red line was on autopilot/autocorrect).

– President Barack Obama, 4 September 2013

jimver on September 5, 2013 at 5:19 PM

Del Dolemonte on September 5, 2013 at 3:34 PM

I can’t credibly respond to the NY Times article with facts to refute it, so I will feebly attempt to change the subject. But I only got a F+ in Alinsky 101, so wish me luck.

mnjg on September 5, 2013 at 3:40 PM

Edited for accuracy.

I gave you one NY Times article from 5 months ago with plenty of proof. There are plenty more out there, including one the NYT just did today.

On the other hand, you’ve been repeatedly asked on this thread for your claims that most of the rebels aren’t Islamists, and that few of them are AQ. And you’ve repeatedly refused to do so.

When you can do so, we’ll stop laughing at you. Now get cracking!

Del Dolemonte on September 5, 2013 at 5:21 PM

Barry is a lying sack of crap

TX-96 on September 5, 2013 at 5:23 PM

Is it because I did not serve in the military that I cannot opine on war or going to war?

mnjg on September 5, 2013 at 3:36 PM

You couldn’t if you were a Republican politician in America between November of 2000 and January of 2009…


Del Dolemonte on September 5, 2013 at 5:24 PM

we should have more assads. encourage him. have all the sunnis take out all the shia. we’re halfway to a peaceful world. as only muslims threaten world “peace” anymore. and does anyone doubt at some point theres going to be a final solution of the muslim problem? theres either going to BE the caliphate OR a whole lot less muslims.

t8stlikchkn on September 5, 2013 at 4:58 PM

We’d be happy with just a whole less of you…here, at HA I mean :)…not advocating for the ‘final solution’ for trolls, they have a purpose, usually…though yours has expired, I’m afraid…

jimver on September 5, 2013 at 5:26 PM

Twern’t no Red line.

It was Carnelian.

Maybe Crimson.

Possibly Maroon.

Yeah, I’d go for maroon…closer to what Obama is.

A moron.

A “red line” does not mean what Obama thought it meant.

Red line…to rev a motor up beyond its rated RPM, or, to deny a housing loan to somebody for living in the wrong (bad risk) neighborhood.

Until Obama came along, was not a usage in the military nor in diplomacy.

Once again, even with this “red line” thing, as usual, Obama just made it up as he went.

But, it isn’t Obama’s “red line” anymore. It is the world’s “red line.”

Also typical Obama.

coldwarrior on September 5, 2013 at 5:30 PM

At this point, reading stories of the already declared “no” votes in the House, Obama/Kerry/Biden need to to either show some backbone and lob a few bombs, which they claim they can do anyway, or just shutter the whole deal and save face.

Tater Salad on September 5, 2013 at 5:33 PM

The world set the red line, huh?

Grew hands and wrote it down on its lonesome?

How about asking the world to swat Syria with its hands that it used to write down the verbiage of the red line that Obama talked about?

Makes as much sense as Obama does at this point.

ajacksonian on September 5, 2013 at 6:03 PM

King Barry doesn’t have to worry about his credibility. He doesn’t have any.

Fast and Furious
Bombing of Libya
IRS scandal
NSA scandal


GarandFan on September 5, 2013 at 6:04 PM

CiC lies better than anyone ever.

Schadenfreude on September 5, 2013 at 6:22 PM

A Red Line? (In your best Monty Python voice) It’s more of a parallelogram really, or something resembling a rhombus. A polygon, that’s what it is. It’s a polygon actually.

Mojave Mark on September 5, 2013 at 7:01 PM

A partial list of US interventions:

Somalia – Now number one on the failed state index

Iraq – Number eleven on the failed state index, trend is: “The past four months have been among the bloodiest since 2008; nearly 3,000 people have been killed and over 7,000 injured. But the Islamic State of Iraq, the latest incarnation of al-Qaeda, now appears to have broadened its scope from its trademark attacks on security forces and Shia mosques and markets, to suicide-bombings of cafés and funeral gatherings.” NYT

Afghanistan – Number seven on the failed state index, trend is: “One of the closest-kept secrets in Afghanistan these days is data about how active the insurgents have become in their spring offensive this year. A confidential assessment of Afghan finances by the International Monetary Fund said the potentially severe cash crunch was caused by widespread tax evasion abetted by government officials, the increasing theft of customs revenues by provincial governors and softening economic growth.” NYT

Libya – trend: “We all thought Libya had moved on – it has, but into lawlessness and ruin” UK Independent 9/3/2013

Egypt – trend: “Egypt’s economy continues to suffer large losses in all its sectors. Coptic Christians face unprecedented reprisals from the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt (has a) $20 billion a year cash gap. With the country’s energy supplies nearly exhausted and just two months’ supply of imported wheat on hand. Egypt’s crisis is already taking a heavy toll on tourism and the economy, with foreign governments advising against travel to the country, holiday companies scrapping tours”

Maybe the sixth time will be the charm, I doubt it. Delivering highly expensive ordnance into chunks of geography seems to make some people feel better, but what has it accomplished? What has it cost? What has it gained?

Viator on September 5, 2013 at 7:55 PM

OBUMBLE……. Wrong again……

ultracon on September 5, 2013 at 8:18 PM

Come on, Mr. Prez: a million bucks worth of Twinkies would do better than a million bucks of Tomahawks.

Twinkies, not Tomahawks!

BigAlSouth on September 5, 2013 at 8:26 PM

So, now that Dear Leader has gone all national security and credibility, I was prompted by curiosity. . . when was it that the story was that he was skipping his exclusive-to-the-President daily national security briefings? A quick search reveals it was . . . September 2012. A whole year. Way to prepare, Preezy.

ugottabekiddingme on September 5, 2013 at 10:06 PM

I’m to the point where I think back to Carter. That was 32-36 years ago. I don’t know how many of the HA commenters were old enough to remember, but the country was in a much bigger funk then than now. The USA had no credibility in the world. That is when the chinese term “paper tiger” was much used. We had few ships, fewer top combat aircraft. We withdrew from the moon to feed and pander to the minorities. We had a stagnant economy along with 20% inflation. The libruls then and now saw nothing wrong with this and wanted even more social spending.

The USA had a peaceful rebellion and elected a Conservative republican president. We immediately went into tax reductions, the economy soared. That president built up our military to be tops on this planet. It was not long before nobody, no country, wanted to draw the attention of The USA. The communist/marxist/dhimocrapts tried to throw every outlandish accusation at that president, but he prevailed. The main reason why the NYT and Wapo was against him was because he short circuited communist revolutions all over the world, WITHOUT extensive use of American troops.

Don’t lose hope. Our turn will come again. This time, however, we must do the dame thing the communist/marxist/dhimocrapts/libfree or die, etc must be permanently removed from the type of power that will destroy this country. Most of you will never know, McCarthy and he House UnAmerican Activities Committee was right. They found marxist infiltration of Hollywood, the schools and Universities, unions.After the leftists got that committee shut down, look what has developed. In fact, if you are not a marxist and dhimpcrapt, you defacto can not get a job in those industries.

Old Country Boy on September 5, 2013 at 10:16 PM

the dame thing

make that “the same thing”.

Old Country Boy on September 5, 2013 at 10:18 PM

The American people are every bit as weak as Obama. They are on their knees before him, hoping he’ll steal something from someone who earned it and give it to them. Good things usually don’t happen to people like that.

BillCarson on September 5, 2013 at 11:30 PM

About the only way out I think is to hit both sides hard, Assad and the ‘rebels’. Degrade their capabilities with the message – fight your little fight between you but stay away from chemicals.

TerryW on September 6, 2013 at 10:04 AM

Actually, it’s going to be infinitely amusing to watch this lame duck president make a fool of himself over the next 3 years. Think of it as Nemesis punishing Hubris…

Pest on September 6, 2013 at 11:29 AM