Our View: On power and credibility

Posted: September 13, 2013

If President Obama’s loose talk and incessant meandering to a position on Syria, as yet unrealized, leave any positive residue, it might be in a long-overdue discussion about the projection of American power and the preservation — or “resurrection”? — of American credibility.

Time magazine’s Joe Klein, on Wednesday, started this debate. Mr. Klein, nominally liberal yet hard to pin down philosophically at times, hit his nails squarely on this venture.

Speaking to this administration’s penchant for “loose pronouncements of American intent,” he wrote: “The Chinese believe that the strongest person in the room says the least. The President is the strongest person, militarily, in the world. He does not have to broadcast his intentions. He should convey them privately, wait for a response, then take action, or not . . . The wolf doesn’t have to cry wolf, nor should the American eagle. We must stand for restrained moral power, power that is absolutely lethal and purposeful when it is unleashed, but never unleashed wantonly, without a precise plan or purpose.”

Adherence to “restraint” — i.e., consistency or, as Teddy Roosevelt used to say, “Speak softly and carry a big stick” — prevents a diminution of credibility. Or, as we’re faced with today, a search to restore it. But can this credibility be restored? Mr. Klein says “Yes.”

“American credibility is easily resurrected, given our overwhelming strength, by prudent action the next time a crisis erupts, a clear strategic vision, and a rock-steady hand on the wheel.”

As Ronald Reagan exhibited in the ’80s — Mr. Klein’s sentiments. And ours, too.