Why This 14-Year-Old Photo Still Haunts the United States

April 7th 2017

The most memorable exchange from Friday morning's United Nation's Security Council meeting didn't come from Russia, Syria, or any of the key players affected by the United States' bombing of an Syrian government air force base the night before.

Instead, it was the ambassador from Bolivia who may have produced the most discussed moment of the day.

bolivia ambassadorAssociated Press - apimages.com

Bolivian Ambassador Sacha Llorenti brought the council back to 2003, when former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell laid out the case for invading Iraq based on later-discredited evidence that Saddam Hussein had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction.

In the now-infamous image, Powell can be seen holding up vial of anthrax to demonstrate the killing capacity of just a small amount of the toxic substance.

colin powellAssociated Press - apimages.com

The United States was wrong about Iraq's weapons program, Llorenti told the council, and they could be wrong in their assertion that the Assad regime was behind the chemical weapons attack in Idlib, thus destroying their rationale for firing 59 tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air force base on Thursday evening.

"I believe it's vital for us to remember what history teaches us and on this occasion, the United States did affirm, they affirmed that they had all the proof necessary to show that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction but they were never found … never were they found," Llorenti said. "Now the United States believe that they are investigators, they are attorneys, judges and they are the executioners. That's not what international law is about."

Twitter users quickly shared images of Llorenti, touting it as proof of the United States' diminished credibility on the global stage.

Bolivia's trolling could be a sign of the United States' loss of credibility on the global stage.

"I think it is a big deal that the United States has lost all credibility when it says something happened." James Gelvin, professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, told ATTN:. "The fact is, the United States was not doubted when it really mattered in Cuba in 1962 — [when the United States presented evidence that there were Soviet missiles being stored on the island, prompting the Cuban missile crisis] — and now it’s doubted all the time."

But what does that loss of credibility actually amount to?

"I’m not a huge fan of the idea of credibility," Professor David Kaye, Director, International Justice Clinic at University of California, Irvine, told ATTN: on Friday afternoon. "It’s very difficult to measure. It’s a more specific and contextual question each time."

And, as Kaye put it, "credibility isn't that valuable of a concept" in the context of the United Nations' Security Council — where members are more likely to make arguments based on their own strategic goals, not in response to the persuasiveness of their colleagues' arguments.

And when it comes to the alleged chemical attack in Syria, that matters a lot.

While a the investigation into the perpetrator of the Idlib chemical attack are still underway, Gelvin said it's that the Russian Federation is exploiting the United States' past lie to undermine what appears to be mounting evidence that the Assad regime was responsible. The Russian government insists that the Syrian government did not conduct a chemical weapons strike, and instead claims The Syrian Air Force destroyed a rebel warehouse where chemical weapons were being stored.

syrian-kid AP/IHA - apimages.com

Gelvin told ATTN: that he believes the Russian Federation is now the ones who are lying, while taking advantage of the United States' lack of credibility at the same time.

"People who understand what’s going on in Syria, know full well that it’s Assad who has done it, and that the Russians and the Syrian government are lying," he said. "Does this let the U.S. off the hook for the time that it also lied? No. But, there is no reason to believe that there was any rebel involvement in this strike whatsoever."

Regardless of who is found responsible for the chemical attack in Syria, there are also major questions about the United States' ability to successfully intervene in the years-long conflict.

Gelvin said that, at this point, the bombing of a Syrian government air force base wouldn't significantly reduce Assad's military capabilities, nor would it bring a quicker end to the violence.

"What is Trump's purpose? Vengeance? To show Russia or China he means business?" Gelvin asked. "Or to demonstrate to the world (and his base) he is not Obama? That's where my money is, since his foreign policy to date has switched between the 'unHillary' and the 'unObama.'"

As Kaye noted, skepticism in the United States isn't just rooted in its more than decade-old and debunked case for the Iraq war, it also stems from the consequences of its past interventions, and the lack of a clear vision for its next one.

"I’m not sure anybody thinks of knows what the administration's plan is," Kaye said.

Share your opinion

Do you think the United States lacks credibility?

No 7%Yes 93%