President Joe Biden makes brief remarks while hosting Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, in the Oval Office at the White House June 25, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images
Top Democrats are criticizing Biden's recent airstrikes against Iranian proxies.
Sen. Chris Murphy told NYT that Biden is waging a “low-intensity war.”
Democrats like Murphy have effectively accused Biden of bypassing Congress.
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President Joe Biden's Iran strategy is faltering, and he's facing growing accusations from fellow Democrats of waging what effectively amounts to an undeclared war.
Biden on Sunday ordered airstrikes against Iran-backed militias along the Iraq-Syria border, a move the Pentagon said was “defensive” and prompted by drone attacks on US forces in the region.
The Biden administration said that Sunday's strikes were designed to send “a clear and unambiguous deterrent message” against future attacks on American forces in the region, but within hours US troops in Syria were targeted with rocket attacks. No casualties have been reported. Iran-backed militias were suspected of firing the rockets, and US forces responded with artillery fire, a US military spokesperson said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the airstrikes were meant to “limit the risk of escalation,” but they've seemingly achieved the opposite.
Sunday's airstrikes and the subsequent rocket attacks were also not isolated incidents, but linked to a broader, escalating series of retaliatory actions by the US and Iran-backed militias. Biden in February also ordered airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in response to attacks on US forces.
“This attack, like the one preceding it, will not deter these militias from targeting US and coalition forces again,” Randa Slim, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, told US News and World Report. Democrats in Congress have reached similar conclusions.
Rep. Sara Jacobs of California, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee as well as the Foreign Affairs Committee, in a tweet said, “The first time the Biden Administration launched airstrikes, they assured Congress there was a plan to de-escalate. Protecting American troops is a priority, but clearly continuing airstrikes is not deterring Iran-backed militias from attacking our troops in Iraq.”
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, an increasingly prominent voice on foreign policy in Washington, in comments to the New York Times said the violence between the US and Iranian proxies represents a “low-intensity war.”
“Repeated retaliatory strikes against Iranian proxy forces are starting to look like what would qualify as a pattern of hostilities,” Murphy, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told the Times. Biden has repeatedly cited Article II of the Constitution as the legal justification for the strikes he's ordered against Iran's proxies, but Murphy said the cycle of violence is getting to a point where Congress needs to step in and assert its constitutionally-enshrined war powers.
“You can't continue to declare Article II authorities over and over again … without at some point triggering Congress's authorities,” Murphy said.
Other top Democrats have raised concerns about Congress being bypassed for military actions like this and called for more information on the Biden administration's rationale for the strikes.
“Congress has the power to authorize the use of military force and declarations of war, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is planning to hear from the administration more on these strikes,” Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.
Biden in the Oval Office on Monday rebuffed the notion that he's stretching the limits of his presidential war powers. “I have that authority under Article II – and even those up in the Hill who are reluctant to acknowledge that have acknowledged that is the case,” Biden told reporters.
The president is being pushed into walking a careful line when it comes to Iran as well as presidential war powers.
The Biden administration has endorsed recent congressional efforts to repeal post-9/11 laws that gave presidents broad powers to conduct military operations worldwide. But it also doesn't want to allow attacks on US forces to go unanswered, or to look soft on Iran. This is particularly true while the US is engaged in ongoing, indirect diplomat discussions with Iran in Vienna that are aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal.
That said, the talks are up in the air, and with so many disagreements remaining Blinken recently told the Times that the US is “getting closer” to walking away from the negotiation table.
Ebrahim Raisi, Iran's incoming president, is not expected to derail the effort to revive the 2015 pact. But Raisi is also a hardliner and close ally of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is already under US sanctions over his human rights record. Moreover, the Iranian president-elect has made it clear he doesn't support engaging in further diplomacy with the US. Raisi also recently said he would not relinquish support for regional militias, one of many signs that he could cause significant headaches for Biden.
If violence between US forces and Iran's proxies continues, Biden is poised to face more criticism from Democrats over presidential war powers – as well as increased calls to pull more of the roughly 2,500 American troops from Iraq.
Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, on Monday told Insider that Sunday's airstrikes showed “the need for a broader strategy to bring our troops home so they are not at risk and to de-escalate the tensions with Iran.”
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