The foreign policy meme is fixed that President Barack Obama is weak and therefore responsible for virtually every global ill. It’s hard for the denizens of Washington to accept that not everything in the world is about them.
As I point out in National Interest online: “People elsewhere have interests and ambitions. Like the obstreperous British colonists in North America more than two centuries ago, foreigners are willing to defy major powers in order to achieve their ends.”
Government and guerrilla leaders still may worry about what Washington thinks. But they judge American threats based on a perception of U.S. interests more than abstract “credibility.”
Little would have changed had President Obama launched military strikes in response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons. No other country would have feared military attack for different reasons.
For instance, what happens in Ukraine matters to Washington, but not enough to confront Russia, which considers the issue an essential matter of security. The United States might be willing to attack another largely helpless Middle Eastern state for peripheral stakes, but it won’t do the same against a nuclear-armed great power.
Unfortunately, top officials routinely put U.S. credibility at stake by issuing proclamations better left to second tier State Department desk officers. In the midst of the African summit, for example, the Obama administration complained that the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila, might run for a third term.