(Can credibility attach to President Obama’s foreign policy when it is so incredibly amorphous as hardly to exist? Or when his actions contradict his words constantly? — DM)
Perceptions of America’s credibility shape the policies of our friends — and our enemies.
[T]he sharp edge of Iranian strategy is shaped significantly by perceptions of American global resolve. Where America is seen to be resolute and determined, Iran is deterred. Where America is seen to be timid and uncertain, Iran is emboldened.
This past weekend, The Economist lambasted President Obama’s policies in Ukraine and Syria for fostering a “nagging doubt” about America’s credibility as an ally. Then, on Monday, The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart suggested that such notions are “bunk.” For Beinart, the “credibility fallacy” is an excuse to avoid complex discussions of America’s global interests.
I have some sympathy for one of Beinart’s arguments: Casual strength-vs.-weakness narratives are unhelpful. Foreign policy is too important for posturing. But ultimately, Beinart is wrong. Contrary to his assertions, American policy in Ukraine and Syria most certainly does influence America’s adversaries — especially in the Middle East.
For a start, take Dexter Filkins’s study of Qassem Suleimani, the leader of Iran’s Quds Force and an archetypal hardliner of the regime. In his meticulous analysis, Filkins shows how the sharp edge of Iranian strategy is shaped significantly by perceptions of American global resolve. Where America is seen to be resolute and determined, Iran is deterred. Where America is seen to be timid and uncertain, Iran is emboldened.
And perceptions of U.S. credibility among players who are not part of a foreign regime are also important. Take America’s adversaries in the Middle Eastern media. Opinion makers there now present Obama as the master of a rudderless agenda. These populist narratives are important — they mobilize political agendas in ways that are either favorable or problematic for the United States. Read more…
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