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Bad Reputation

The Folly of Going to War for "Credibility"

U.S. President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, 2013. Larry Downing / Courtesy Reuters

The United States is poised to strike against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for a chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of civilians and wounded thousands. U.S. President Barack Obama warned Assad not to use such weapons once before, saying that their use would cross a “red line.” Assad ignored the threat in June and Obama did nothing. So does Obama’s initial bluff explain Assad’s second chemical attack?

It might. If Assad concluded from the first episode that Obama was irresolute, then he would discount the threat of U.S. military action. Of course, that would make Assad a strategic simpleton unable to imagine the political pressure on the Obama administration to respond to the repeated use of poison gas.

Even if Assad were so simpleminded, the administration’s critics are wrong to suggest that the president should have acted sooner to protect U.S.

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