Suckers and the suckers who sucker themselvesBy
What could be simpler and more intuitive than telling people that countries are just like people, that we have to stand up to this bully or we’ll get our lunch money taken again? — Max Fisher at Vox
Remember the “I don’t think anybody could have predicted” defense Condoleeza Rice used to explain why the Bush II administration failed to stop the September 11 attacks? Look again at the quote in italics. Now ask yourself whether it is predictable that we’ll hear the “stand up to this bully” argument deployed to sell America’s next foreign military adventure.
Foreign intervention is another place where facts don’t matter, according to Max Fisher. In a fascinating article at Vox, Fisher argues that American military intervention is often sold on the false belief that American “credibility” will suffer if we fail to intervene in this or that conflict regardless of our objective national interests. Regardless of the fact that this theory of credibility “does not appear to be real. Political scientists have investigated this theory over and over, and have repeatedly disproven it.”
But it sells. Planes, drones, rifles, etc.
Reputation theory is “a compass that only points in one direction.” Invoking credibility is a sucker move foreign leaders use to get the U.S. to intervene for them. Besides being an emotional argument and essentially unfalsifiable, the reason this version of the embolden-our-enemies argument serves foreign policy elites is it is easy to explain:
“The credibility argument is simply an easy (and hard to disprove) way for elites to sell the foreign policy they’re most interested in to the American people, whether that’s domino theory, primacy, or intervention in some conflict,” Emma Ashford of the Cato Institute pointed out.
“Credibility is an intuitive and hard to refute argument, even if larger studies show it to be false,” she added.
Plus, the credibility argument plays to America’s inflated sense of its own importance:
It portrays the world as a place where the world turns on American power, whose assertion is inherently a force for justice and stability.
It’s a world where the United States is the protagonist of every story — because every conflict is a test of our credibility, we are at the center even of events that seem to have nothing to do with us — and where the US is best served by personifying the characteristics of a Hollywood action movie hero.
Remaining 2016 presidential candidates (particularly of the Republican persuasion) are sure to entertain us this election season with how tough they are by repeating some version of the Ledeen Doctrine. Some already have. Fisher explains:
“The toughness fascination emerges from a variety of gender tropes that extend back pretty far that associate toughness with manliness,” he wrote. “This understanding manifests in diplomacy through the obsession with reputation. Combine that with the regular diplomatic over-emphasis on the effect of US action, and you get a compulsion to look at every event in terms of whose dick is longer.”
I can’t imagine who among the presidential candidates might act out militarily just to prove that, can you?