Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel are asking lawmakers today to trust the White House when it says that pending operations in Syria would be limited to air strikes and that the White House has no plans to put American boots on the ground. They are continuing to make their case for military action, this time in front of the House.
The House and Senate are both weighing whether to take Kerry, Hagel and Obama at their word. But these officials and others within the administration lobbying for action in Syria have one big problem: On international affairs and matters of war and peace, their credibility is shot.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney, a vocal critic of the White House, has made the charge before. But in recent weeks, more moderate Republicans, including John McCain, have also said the international community lacks confidence in the United States.
“We have no credibility. We do have influence, but when you don't use that influence, then you do not have that influence,” McCain said late last month.
A review of the Obama administration's record on foreign relations shows why this is the case. Time and time again, the White House has either miscalculated how events would unfold, or misled the American public and the international community on what actions the United States would take. For instance:
• Despite his vow to act if Assad crossed the “red line” by using chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war, Obama is only now threatening military action. The fate of any strike in Syria is now in the hands of a gridlocked Congress.
• In Egypt, the United States backed Hosni Mubarak, who ended up pulling the country far to the Islamic right. Washington was and is powerless to influence the outcome of the military coup that removed him.
• The White House promised a stable Iraq after troop withdrawal. The country is in chaos and is sliding closer toward civil war. Just today, a gunman killed 19 in an apparent sectarian attack.
• The Untied States continues to prop up Afghan President Harmid Karzi despite Karzi's open hostility toward the United States. Most experts expect the country to return to violent tribalism once U.S. troops leave next summer.
• Russian President Vladimir Putin and NSA leaker Edward Snowden were one step ahead of U.S. authorities, with Snowden reportedly plotting his escape to Russia while in Hong Kong.
• In Libya, the U.S. ignored assessment of President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf that the attacks against the U.S. embassy in Benghazi were planned by terrorists.
This record is likely to make the administration’s current assertions on Syria much harder to accept; especially for lawmakers who are unconvinced that U.S. action would be limited to a cruise missile strike.