Less than six months ago, the US was described as a phoenix risen from the ashes, with an economic recovery, independent energy resources, dominant IT multinationals and a renascent car industry. Now it is an empire in decline, brought down by the indecisive conduct of President Barack Obama (1). That's according to the chattering classes. They have made talking about "the strange weakness of America" (2) a minor industry. They claim Obama damaged US credibility over Syria by not launching yet another operation against an Arab state (3), as Paris and a few brilliant strategists hoped he would (see Olivier Zajec, France's resounding defeat). Credibility is their key word.
Let's consider credibility. The Vietnam war resulted from a decision taken by John F Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, on the pretext of preventing another domino falling to the Soviet or Chinese Communists. For the US, it was a question of credibility. Three million Indochinese perished. In 1979, four years after the US defeat, China and Vietnam were at war...
The Iraq war was devised by George W Bush to punish a regime supposed to be part of an "axis of evil", with Iran and North Korea. For the US, it was a question of credibility. Today, Iraq is in ruins and the Baghdad government established by US soldiers is closer than ever to Iran.
In October 2002 Obama, then a young senator who was against the US venture in Iraq, said: "I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars." After he was elected president, he stepped up the dumb war in Afghanistan until he was forced to retreat.
The warmongers urged him to take a strong line in Syria: to violate international law by resorting to force without Security Council authorisation; to take no notice of anything Congress had to say; to disregard what it did say if that contradicted his expressed wishes; and to launch a military operation with far fewer allies than Bush's "coalition of the willing" in 2003. The US president was called upon to do all this against the wishes of a majority of his fellow citizens, some of whom fear that the US army will become "Al-Qaida's air force" in Syria (4).
He hesitated, and seems to have concluded that his credibility would easily survive a refusal to enter another dumb war in the Middle East.
Philip Golub, Empire as a state of being, December 2010