Fooling Other Countries

Noah Millman argues that "if the Libyan intervention is to be justified at all, it should be justified on the basis of what we are doing in Libya, and not some larger doctrine that it supposedly represents":

It strikes me as exceptionally unproductive to base our foreign policy on the idea that we can fool other countries into thinking we’re going to do something we aren’t going to do, or that we’re not going to do something that we are. And one thing we are not going to do is be strictly rule-bound in our approach to foreign affairs.

The United States is a huge country with a very large and conflicting array of interests and, being both a democracy and a country with a divided central government, limited ability to set policy at the government’s discretion. To most countries, we will inevitably be a relatively fickle friend. When the rulers of Uzbekistan ask themselves “can we rely on the United States?” the answer is inevitably going to be “to an extent – but not really” – and not only is there nothing the United States can do to change that impression, it’s not clear to me that we should want to change that impression, because that is the truth, and I don’t see what is gained by trying to convince the Uzbeks that we are more trustworthy than we really are.