Amongst the debate over military intervention in Syria, numerous phrases, such as "human rights" and "humanity's red line" have been thrown around; none are as curious as "America's credibility," though. Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that this is at stake in the upcoming congressional vote. Kerry's not alone. What exactly is America's credibility that it factors as a legitimate reason for military action? If it's a case of backing up public statements like the "red line," and building up trust and credence, the Obama administration should drop it. In order to maintain credibility in foreign policy, the U.S. needs to have some credibility in foreign policy, and it largely doesn't. It's time to dismiss the criteria of "America's credibility."
By looking at credibility as a factor, you're practically looking at international relations through the lens of a neighborhood with street cred. Fine. Street cred can come in the form of being the Godfather of sorts, taking care of the general community. The key to all of this is having a record that gets you street cred in the first place. However, that's hard to do with a poor record.
Looking to the Obama administration alone, it's pretty difficult to expect complete trust, thanks to Edward Snowden. Wiretapping European allies, let alone gathering data from unsuspecting American citizens isn't a great, "Hey, you should trust U.S."
Even with open policies, there's a lack of success. There's the situation in Afghanistan, where Taliban influence is still prevalent after a decade of war. The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai has also publicly criticized Obama and acknowledged CIA bribes. There are numerous credibility problems there.
If there is an accepted level for America's credibility, it's probably pretty low. To the outside world, the overlap of Bush and Obama administration policies doesn't give the perception of a problem with one party, but rather with American politics in general. History doesn't help. Look to the declassification of CIA documents revealing the U.S. role in helping Saddam Hussein against Iran. Speaking of Saddam, the Iraq war might be the biggest deficit of American credibility in recent years.
Plus, there's a lot to debate about Syria that isn't American credibility. National security, and whether there's strategic value to intervention, is one debate that's far more important criteria. The moral obligation of enforcing human rights is another. Is the image of America more important than these debates?
There are those who say our allies and enemies are watching. Our allies are already speaking. Britain is out. France still supports Obama, and there hasn't been a congressional vote yet. Concerning our enemies, opinions are unlikely to change. North Korea's stance is unlikely to change due to Syria, and Al-Qaeda's definitely will not. Syria, while a growing problem, is not the cornerstone of the U.S. relationship with the rest of the world.
Whatever way you lean on Syria, American credibility probably isn't your top justification. That's because it's more of a myth and self-justification, rather than a valid criteria for military intervention.