March 2, 2021

Airstrikes in Syria

The United States carried out air strikes [authorized] by President Joe Biden against facilities belonging to Iranian-backed militia in eastern Syria [last] Thursday, in response to rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq, the Pentagon said.” Reuters

“The Biden administration said Sunday it remains open to talks with Iran over the 2015 nuclear deal [JCPOA] despite Tehran’s rejection of an EU invitation to join a meeting with the U.S. and the other original participants in the agreement… The official said the U.S. would be consulting with the other participants — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the European Union — on the way forward.” AP News

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From the Left

The left is divided between those who support the airstrike and those who are skeptical of the administration’s justification.

“If Biden did nothing in response to the latest Iranian provocations, he would have risked sending a message of weakness that would have further emboldened Tehran — and played into unfair Republican accusations that he is appeasing the mullahs. On Thursday, Biden ordered the right response… Notably, and mercifully, absent was any of Donald Trump’s bloodthirsty rhetoric or juvenile taunts. Instead the White House left it to the Pentagon to announce the airstrike…

“This is exactly the right tone to strike. Biden is laying down important red lines by telling Tehran that it cannot attack the United States or its allies with impunity, and it certainly cannot kill U.S. personnel. But Biden is also signaling that he does not want war, and he wants to resume nuclear negotiations.”
Max Boot, Washington Post

“The air strikes in Syria were carefully considered and executed, apparently in consultation with allies — in other words, nothing at all like the Trump-ordered attack that killed Soleimani at the start of last year. They came after Biden had spoken with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, and both men agreed that the militias behind the rocket attacks must be held to account. In all, seven 500-pound bombs were dropped on buildings used by the militias close to Syria’s border with Iraq. Biden was offered larger targets but demurred…

Biden has now demonstrated that he can walk and chew gum at the same time. Tehran and the other signatories of the JCPOA cannot question his sincerity in seeking a return to negotiations: The president has already pulled the U.S. back from the aggressive posture Trump adopted toward the Islamic Republic. But they can no longer believe that Biden will be as [complacent] as Obama.”
Bobby Ghosh, Bloomberg

Critics, however, argue that “The administration rather unnecessarily decided to create a public feud over whether Iran or the US would have to take the first step towards reviving the JCPOA. Instead of carefully working with the Europeans to design a choreography that would enable both sides to move simultaneously, and by that, avoid a conflict over chronology altogether, Biden officials repeatedly made public demands that Iran had to take the first step before any of Trump’s JCPOA-violating sanctions could be lifted – even though it was the US that left the agreement.”
Trita Parsi, The Guardian

Biden is now the third president to order attacks in Syria without congressional approval since the start of that country’s civil war almost exactly a decade ago… The Obama administration proceeded to claim the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which launched the Afghanistan War and the ‘War on Terror’ writ large, and the 2002 AUMF for the Iraq War, as its legal justifications for intervention in Syria…

“The Trump administration also relied on the 2001 AUMF and the Article II theory of self-defense as justification for its airstrikes on Syria, as well as the more novel theory that it didn’t need Congress’s permission because the strikes simply didn’t rise to the level of ‘war.’…

“[Biden] attempted to make an argument on the basis of self-defense, and perhaps the threat the target posed was more imminent than we know. But most likely, the administration proceeded with the strike without asking Congress’s permission simply because the defense and national security brass knew they almost certainly wouldn’t get it and wouldn’t face any real consequences for acting without it.”
Jonah Shepp, New York Magazine

From the Right

The right supports the airstrike but is skeptical about Biden’s overall approach to Iran.

The right supports the airstrike but is skeptical about Biden’s overall approach to Iran.

“Iran was hoping Biden would respond with the verbal condemnation and perhaps some warnings about crossing red lines. Had they gotten that, turn the other cheek response, they would have undertaken another more severe attack to see just how far they could push the new president… [Instead] Biden took the correct peace through strength action, by striking at Iranian-backed militias, even if they were in Syria. It shows that the U.S. will not turn the other cheek and that we still intend to use force when appropriate. And we will always defend our interests.”
Michael Busler, Townhall

“In these early months, the Biden administration seems to be trying to chart a course between those chosen by its two predecessors. It is willing to drop Mr. Trump’s maximum-pressure campaign against Tehran but wants both a ‘stronger and longer’ nuclear agreement and more restraints on Iran’s regional aggression than anything the Obama administration managed to produce…

“Knowing that the Biden administration has no appetite for another American war in the Middle East, Tehran seems convinced that Washington’s only two real choices are the nuclear deal on Iranian terms, or an Iranian bomb. If the resulting tensions damage Washington’s relations with either Europe or Middle East allies, so much the better… The question going forward is whether the administration can impose its vision on Iran while keeping European and Middle East allies onside.”
Walter Russell Mead, Wall Street Journal

“The very least that can be said about President Biden’s second month in power is that we are seeing any dreams of a quick return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, also known as the JCPOA, and a quick resolution to U.S.-Iranian confrontations dissolve before our eyes. The president’s refusal, thus far, to lift any sanctions and his willingness to use force against Iranian proxies suggest a more realistic assessment of Iran than many feared…

“Down the road the administration faces an even greater challenge than what to do about attacks on Americans in Iraq. President Biden has already decided that they will be met with force, and one must assume that if the attacks continue and escalate, the counter-attacks will as well. But what about Iran’s expulsion of nuclear inspectors, which violates the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the ‘Additional Protocol’ to the JCPOA (that allowed snap inspections)? What about enrichment to 60 percent, if that indeed occurs? How far down the road toward building a nuclear weapon will the administration be willing to let Iran go?”
Elliott Abrams, National Review

“Maybe I’m missing something here, but how is the current policy towards Iran any different than what Trump was doing? Sure, there’s probably going to be a bit less harsh rhetoric, but Iran has basically just told us to go pound sand until the sanctions are lifted…

“Iran has long since entered into some sort of unofficial cabal with Russia, China, and North Korea. If we’re not careful, Turkey will be joining them sooner or later. And much the same as with North Korea, sanctions are never going to be as fully effective as we might wish as long as some of the bigger players like Russia and China are helping Iran get around them…

“So what’s the answer to this puzzle outside of what would likely be a disastrous, direct military intervention against Tehran’s nuclear facilities? Don’t ask me. The entire situation is a mess. But, for the umpteenth time, that mess is on Joe Biden’s plate now. He wanted the job and he needs to tell us how he plans to fix it.”
Jazz Shaw, Hot Air

A Military Perspective

“[Since 2015] the Middle East has changed. The Abraham Accords brokered between Israel and multiple Sunni Arab states formalized a longstanding, if unstated, truism that the Israeli-Arab divide was no longer the region’s primary cleavage. Instead, the primary rift is between Iran and everyone else. This dynamic, in turn, could place any Iranian nuclear deal in a new regional context. While Israel and the Sunni Arab states have long viewed Iranian nuclear weapons as an existential threat and are skeptical of the JCPOA’s ability to stop an Iranian bomb, none of them were party to the original agreement. These countries were left to express their concerns individually…

“Today, there is an increasingly vocal, unified coalition of Gulf states and Israel opposing the JCPOA… There is an oft-cited maxim about not ‘fighting the last war,’ but the same is arguably true for negotiating the last treaty. At some level, it is understandable that the Biden administration would want to turn back the clock and return to the JCPOA. But even if the deal was the right solution to the Iran nuclear problem when it was negotiated six years ago, any agreement would likely need to look different — not just because the Iranian nuclear program has evolved, but because the world has as well.”
Raphael S. Cohen, The Hill

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