A strong majority of National Journal's National Security Insiders agree with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who says government shutdowns hurt U.S. credibility with its allies.
Three-quarters of the pool of security experts worried about the impression that congressional gridlock, which has lasted for days, leaves with allies abroad about Washington's ability to meet its security commitments. "Shutdowns suggest to allies that the U.S. political system is less stable and reliable than it should be for a country on which they depend for their security," one Insider said. "The allies remember Wendell Willkie and Charles Lindbergh, and wonder whether figures like Ted Cruz might become influential isolationists."
It is very difficult, another Insider said, "to preach the virtues of compromise and inclusion to governments abroad—when our Congress rejects those virtues." It's also tough to establish the credibility of U.S. commitments to other countries, the Insider added, "when we can't assuredly meet our own basic financial obligations or governance obligations to our own citizens." The obvious question for all foreign governments—not just allies—is to ask how Washington can be trusted, another Insider said, to cooperate rationally and consistently with other nations when it cannot even run its own domestic affairs.
"Any time the U.S. showcases its fiscal irresponsibility, as every government shutdown does, it serves to undermine allies' faith in the U.S. as a partner. Our image abroad is tarnished and our capacity to fulfill our treaty obligations is questioned," one Insider said. "It looks as if we're hell-bent on undermining the 'Pax Americana' we've spent so many lives and so much treasure on since WWII. I shudder to think what might come next."
A minority of one-quarter of Insiders disagreed. "Everybody has their budget problems today; why not the U.S.?" one Insider said.
Compared with the loss of U.S. credibility over Syria, another Insider added, "the government shutdown is barely a blip on the screen. Everyone understands it's an internal political battle that will soon sort itself out. Hard to understand why we do it this way, perhaps, but every country faces internal political battles."
Separately, a slim majority of 54 percent of Insiders said the U.S. should push Israel to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention, now that Syria is moving to dismantle its stockpiles. The country has signed but not ratified the agreement, which calls for the disclosure and removal of stockpiles within the country—nor is it party to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. "It's time for Israel to come out of the closet," one Insider said.
All countries should be parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, another Insider said. "Israeli ratification of the convention would take propaganda leverage away from Israel's enemies and the U.S. would have to establish further security guarantees for Israel." There is no legitimate reason for Israel to possess or use chemical weapons, one Insider said, because the Israelis have enough other means to deter the use of these weapons against their forces.
A vocal 46 percent minority disagreed. "The issue is not WMD alone; it's the nature of a regime that uses them," one Insider said. "Syria's government is a state supporter of terrorism and a wide-scale oppressor and murderer of its own citizens. It's the combination of weapons capability and regime behavior that makes Syria so threatening." Several Insiders said the current turmoil in the region makes this an inappropriate time. "With our uncertainty over the intentions of Syria, Iran, and Russia as we negotiate, it is a good time to not add to Israel's stress in the region and [we] should double down on the special relationship with Israel with every lever of national security," one Insider said.
Urging Israel to ratify the convention would only be "appropriate if and when Arab and Iranian states have verifiably destroyed their own chemical-weapons stockpiles and abandoned programs to develop and produce chemical weapons," one Insider said, "and made substantial progress toward democracy and transparency."
1. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the government shutdowns hurt U.S. credibility with its allies. Do you agree?
- Yes 76%
- No 24%
"Any time the U.S. government appears incapable of running the country effectively, we lose credibility in the international arena."
"I'm currently in Europe, where the shutdown is looked upon across the political spectrum as further evidence of America's decay."
"It makes the U.S. look a bit like a banana republic."
"We look ridiculous. But that is because this whole situation is ridiculous. Why wouldn't our credibility be hurt? A small minority in Congress has been allowed to turn out the lights in our capital. Next, this minority intends to damage the country's credit rating. Disliking a particular piece of legislation or a president is one thing; disrespecting the presidency, established law, and those institutional practices that have long made our great society a beacon of democracy for the rest of the world, is quite another. Green Eggs and Ham? How truly embarrassing."
"And if things like the shutdown and sequester continue, there will be an indirect credibility issue: a brain drain of the public sector, which already has a tough sell in getting the best people."
"Our credibility is already damaged; the shutdown simply wrecks it that much more."
"The Congress and the president look foolish at home and abroad."
"In the sense that we are already increasingly being seen as being unreliable, this doesn't help."
"Yes. Between this and Syria, we look like we cannot govern ourselves."
"The impact is beyond mere credibility: It's about capability and influence."
"While our allies do have concerns over the repetitive nature of government grinding to a halt, they do believe we will eventually solve it, and this is the noise and grist of the mill that comes with our political process. We will [muddle] through."
"Allies understand noisy contradictions within U.S. government policy-making process but know that at the end of the day U.S. actions abroad will be unaffected."
"What will they do differently because of the shutdown?"
"It just reinforces the perception growing that we are not up to the task of being the single power, at home or abroad. Shame on us."
"While it doesn't help our international image from a competence standpoint with any foreign audience, I don't think our military allies question the non-impact this is on our immediate readiness or posture. There are far more important audiences I'd worry about over defense.... "
"Hagel also just said in South Korea that the reason Americans need to worry about the Syria deal is because Pyongyang is watching, so maybe we should stop listening to his deep thoughts on credibility altogether."
"It hurts the the image of the United States abroad, to be sure. That's not the same thing as credibility."
2. Now that Syria is moving to dismantle its stockpiles, should the United States push Israel to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention?
- Yes 54%
- No 46%
"... and they should declare as a nuclear power ..."
"It is in Israel's own interest to ratify the CWC, irrespective of Syria."
"It is long overdue; and ratify the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as well. Otherwise the U.S. should start cutting off the billions in taxpayers dollars they get every year."
"Of course. This is a no-brainer."
"It is my understanding that they signed but the Knesset had not ratified it. We should also make it clear to the world that they have nuclear weapons. That, of course, would require a cessation of U.S. aid."
"It also would be good for Israel to sign, ratify, and observe the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty."
"The term 'push' is extremely subjective in this case. We should support the position that Israel should ratify. But we should also acknowledge that Israel is a responsible sovereign state with the right to make its own decisions."
"Chemical-weapons bans should not have exceptions, no exception."
"Yes, Israel should be encouraged to do so once Syria actually complies."
"It's about time we push the Israelis on a number of fronts including this and Iran. We are an ally but should not bow to their interests when they counter ours."
"Eliminates a talking point against Israel."
"Of all the things that need to get done diplomatically in the world, this is not a priority. Israel is not a proliferator."
"Republicans in the House just shut the government down because they couldn't defund Obamacare. Now Obama's supposed to go the Full Seppuku and put wind in their sails by taking a poke at Israel over something that in the scheme of things doesn't even matter? Seriously?"
"We don't have enough to argue about with the Israelis already? The Syrians didn't push hard for this—why should we?"
"No. What about Iran, et al?"
"One has absolutely nothing to do with the other."
"If I were them I would say show me success in Syria first."
"There is no guarantee that Syria will always comply with the terms of the convention. After all, Iran is an IAEA signatory!!"
"Too early to contemplate next steps. Let's see how the agreement in Syria is implemented before we ask anyone else to jump into the pool."
"Trust but verify—let's see the 'new world order' deliver before we take apart the old."
National Journal's National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of more than 100 defense and foreign policy experts. They include: Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Marion Blakey, Kit Bond, Stuart Bowen, Paula Broadwell, Mike Breen, Mark Brunner, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Wendy Chamberlin, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Lorne Craner, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Robert Danin, Richard Danzig, Daniel Drezner, Mackenzie Eaglen, Paul Eaton, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Stephen Ganyard, Daniel Goure, Mark Green, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, John Hamre, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Michael Herson, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Linda Hudson, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Donald Kerrick, Rachel Kleinfeld, Lawrence Korb, David Kramer, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, James Lindsay, Justin Logan, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Ronald Marks, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kevin Nealer, Michael Oates, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Larry Prior, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Frank Ruggiero, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Matthew Sherman, Jennifer Sims, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Richard Wilhelm, Tamara Wittes, Dov Zakheim, and Juan Zarate.
This article appears in the October 8, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.