Credibility is a crucial facet of foreign policy for a world superpower. The international image of the United States dictates how much sway they have in the international order. Credibility is an immeasurable resource that provides power outside of the traditional means of power. These traditional means of power can best be defined as a specific country’s military, their economy, and their political willpower to exercise the use of the previously mentioned two sources of power. Yet, we always hear mention of credibility, a standard that the United States is strictly gauged upon.
What is credibility? During the Cold War, credibility was the United States willingness to stick by its promises. It was their commitment to Korea, Vietnam, and much of the Third World. It was their idealistic rhetoric that established them as the leading western power, a model to be based upon, and it was this rhetoric that encouraged their self-indulgent city upon the hill metaphor. The United States was expected to respond to tragedy in the world, they were expected to be a shield against communism, they were relied on to carry out these roles, and for the most part, they succeeded in this. They survived the Cold War and emerged as the only world superpower. It was their chance to utilize their hegemony. However, did this occur? Is the world today a United States dominated one? There are multiple answers to this question. What is important today is whether or not the United States has maintained its credibility. Can they still be relied upon or do they shy away in the face of danger?
The United States is no longer fully committed to its agenda. They still exercise a strong willpower to command foreign policy, but they are less willing to commit the resources to achieve the desired results. Some will point to Iraq, but this was an anomaly. This article will not focus on Iraq as it does not follow the typical patterns of United States foreign policy during the post-Cold-War period. The new age policy of the United States is one of limited commitment. An example of this limited commitment can be seen in the Gulf War. The United States to this day has a fear of repeating the Vietnam War. George H. W. Bush stated: “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all,” at the conclusion of the Gulf War. The United States had engaged a ruthless dictator and they had achieved a quick military victory. They protected their credibility when challenged in the international order. They established an image of a reliable superpower, one that helped those who were in need. The conditions for the United States to maintain its credibility are heavily influenced by the Vietnam Syndrome. A war must be quick, have a clearly defined goal, require minimal loss of American lives, have overwhelming public support, and it must have a clear exit strategy. Due to these paralyzing restrictions, American credibility has declined in recent years.
How credible is the United States today? In recent years they have suffered handedly as they appear to be a paper tiger. The world is aware of their power, but they are also aware of their unwillingness to commit to another war. The Afghanistan and Iraq wars were costly and the American public wants no part in another senseless war in a distant land. What effect does this have on the United States? North Korea openly attacked South Korea in March of 2010, and in November of 2010, Syria continuously commits war crimes and atrocities against its own people, and Iran continues to develop its nuclear program. On top of that, China continues its rise to power, a rise that directly challenges the power of the United States in international affairs. In response to the growing world threats, the United States turns towards diplomacy. However, how useful is diplomacy when it is being used to reason with unreasonable people. Kim Jong-un, Bashar al-Assad, and Hassan Rouhani are not worried about the interests of the United States. Their goals are to secure personal victories for their countries and they are more than willing to renege on their promises. They are not concerned with the credibility of the United States and the Americans are unwilling to commit the necessary resources to solve the problem. Thus, a dilemma is created in which a feasible solution will never occur. As a result of this, the credibility of the United States will continue to decline as these three nations maintain their respective policies. The United States will appear weak and unmotivated to resolve the threats to the world. Korea, Iran, and Syria will continue to push the limits as they have become convinced that the United States will not act. Eventually, the Americans will have to act, but it will more than likely occur when it is too late, or, they will respond and look to be the aggressors as the other powers of the world will become comfortable with the lack of resolve previously shown by the United States.
The Americans have backed themselves into a corner, a problem which they will find hard to solve. Inaction will continue to see a hemorrhage of their credibility. The oppressive leaders of the world will continue to take advantage of the United States and their unwillingness to commit to preserving the very ideas of freedom and liberty that they hold so close to their core. The United States downward spiral will continue so long as they choose the path of least resistance. The days of a strong and united American foreign policy, one that was dedicated to its goals, seems like a distant memory. The United States which showed resolve in the Korean War, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, in Vietnam, and through the Gulf War, has ceased to exist. They have grown lazy with their power and have become paralyzed by the Vietnam Syndrome. They fear commitment as they are fearful of another Vietnam War, one which cleaved the country in half and still scars it to this day. More and more, the credibility of the United States is resting on the whims of its allies, a position that the Americans will find uncomfortable.