11 August 2014

The measure of a bad idea

I cannot really improve at all on what Daniel Larison has written at The American Conservative, discussing a recent Benjamin Friedman piece in reference to the intellectually-vacuous appeals to credibility so often forwarded by American hawks on Syria and the Ukraine:
Considering how many times U.S. “credibility” has supposedly been shattered or ruined, it is remarkable how many dozens of eager would-be clients and long-standing allies still line up with Washington and fully expect the U.S. to protect them and/or do as they wish. Warning about “credibility” is a giveaway that the person issuing the warning has run out of persuasive arguments and has nothing else left. Friedman sums it up this way:
A good rule of thumb for foreign policy is that if someone tells you our credibility depends (sic) doing something, it’s probably a bad idea.
This true not only because “credibility” hawks are always invoking credibility in order to justify more aggressive policies in places of little or no importance to the U.S., but because the reliance on the “credibility” argument is confirmation that these policies can’t be defended on the merits. The arguments for deeper U.S. involvement in conflicts that are at best tangentially related to U.S. vital interests are not compelling ones, which is why the “credibility” argument is used so often in these debates. “You may not agree with doing X, but you don’t want to risk encouraging a North Korean invasion, do you?” At its core, the “credibility” argument is a sort of extortion: if you don’t agree to do what the hawks prefer in one place, your actual allies somewhere else are supposedly going to get hurt. This should alert us to the weakness of the policy arguments, but instead many Americans allow themselves to be tricked into letting “credibility” concerns overrule all of their objections.

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