Security Insiders: Government Shutdowns Hurt U.S. Credibility Abroad

Sara Sorcher, National Journal
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Sara Sorcher, National Journal
Oct. 8, 2013, 4:02 a.m.

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?

(56 votes)

— 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?

(56 votes)

— 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.


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