A report and opinion piece by Emerson Williams.
Only 26 days into his presidency, President Joe Biden approved his first military action; an airstrike in Syria, demolishing several facilities and killing twenty-two. As of now, experts believe these twenty-two individuals were not civilians, but were members of militia groups. The pentagon claimed this bombardment was completely justified.
Why did Biden approve the airstrike?
One of the motives behind air-striking these militia groups was a need to retaliate. There is an enduring large presence of American soldiers in Iraq, just as there has been for decades. The United States and Iran are bitter enemies, however, neither country can declare war on the other as it would be incredibly damaging to both nations. War with Iran could lead to instability in oil markets, give United States adversary nations leverage with propaganda, perpetuate more xenophobic and anti-islamic ideals in the west, and lead to catastrophic destruction for either nation as both are too large of an opponent to defeat seamlessly. Likewise, Iran is aware they cannot declare war on their other enemy: Iraq, as this would result in a coalition strike on their country. Instead, Iran chooses to funnel money to militia groups residing in several Asian countries, one of them being Syria. Some of the Iran-funded Syrian forces had recently rocket striked Americans in Iraq. In response, the U.S. government chose to carry out an airstrike on an arms depot that belonged to one of the reserves.
When asked by a reporter what message President Biden intended to send with the airstrike, he answered, “You can’t act with impunity. Be careful.” It is thought that President Biden was specifically aiming a message of continued American presence in the middle east at American adversaries such as Iran, Syria, and Russia. Evidently, retaliation and a desire to threaten U.S. enemies were the two components that led to the strike.
What is wrong with the airstrike if it terminated the intended target?
The United States has occupied the Middle East for decades. Continuously, Presidents have promised to withdraw all military forces from countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. Even President Biden himself made a campaign promise to “End Forever Wars”. This promise was that “Biden will forever end the forever wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East, which have cost us untold blood and treasure. As he [had] long argued, Biden will bring the vast majority of our troops home from Afghanistan and narrowly focus our mission on Al-Qaeda and ISIS. And he will end our support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.” The Biden campaign strongly opposed remaining involved in unwinnable conflicts, however practice imperialism as an administration.
Airstrikes like these enable American violence. In past operations, approximately 90% of fatalities from American airstrikes were not the intended target. The U.S. is and will certainly continue to be responsible for millions of civilian deaths if the nation continues with interminable occupancy of Middle Eastern nations. Perpetual involvement in Middle Eastern affairs will assist in continuing the back-and-forth conflict of aggression from the U.S. military in response to attacks against the United States’ forces. The militia groups like the one that Biden approved a strike on are a product of U.S. presence in close proximity.
Was this airstrike possibly a violation of international law? Was this attack justified?
There is currently a large online debate amongst Twitter and Reddit users surrounding whether or not this airstrike was a violation of international law. The side of the debate proposing that the airstrike was illegal brings a promising argument to the table. Admil Ahmad Haque, a professor of law wrote for Just Security, saying, “The U.S. airstrikes almost certainly violated international law, for two basic reasons. The airstrikes did not repel an ongoing armed attack, halt an imminent one, or immediately respond to an armed attack that was in fact over but may have appeared ongoing at the time (see here and here). And the airstrikes were carried out on the territory of another State, without its consent, against a non-State actor (or two, or more) (see here).” The Pentagon’s statement called the attack on Syria “a proportionate military response”. But is it truly proportionate if the response is to a past attack that is no longer ongoing? The attack on Syria realistically should not be considered proportionate self-defense, but rather an armed reprisal. Armed reprisals are also illegal, even if considered proportionate.
Unquestionably, favouring war and escalation rather than striving to find a solution that would allow the U.S. Military to exit the Middle East will only lead to future bloodshed. The war hawk ideology will lead to an endless Iranian/American conflict.
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Haque, A., Haque, A., Donahoe, A., Wicker, S., Cardin, S., & Lizundia, E. et al. (2021). Biden’s First Strike and the International Law of Self-Defense. https://www.justsecurity.org/75010/bidens-first-strike-and-the-international-law-of-self-defense/
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