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

Washington should push Israel to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention, Insiders say.

A plane flies past the Lincoln Memorial, October 1, 2013 in Washington, DC. The National Mall and all monuments and large sections of the government will close due to government shut down after Congress failed to agree on spending. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
National Journal
Sara Sorcher
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Sara Sorcher
Oct. 7, 2013, 5:45 p.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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