Biden under pressure to respond to escalating attacks on US troops in Iraq, Syria

Biden’s growing headache is also familiar to the former senator and longtime vice president, who has seen three successive US presidents before him continue to wage seemingly endless wars in the region using congressional permissions to indefinite period.

Republicans this week criticized Biden’s “bare minimum” approach, noting that his two retaliatory strikes have failed to deter Iranian proxies.

“The continued assaults by Iranian-backed militias on US personnel in Iraq cannot be tolerated,” Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, top Republican official on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement. at POLITICO. “President Biden must come up with a real strategy to deter and end these attacks, rather than continuing his bare minimum, tit for tat approach that fails to deter Iran or its militias and is life-threatening to Americans. in danger.”

Although they recognize the current situation is unsustainable, Biden’s Democratic allies counter that the president lacks the power to launch offensive strikes against Iranian-backed militias without first seeking congressional approval. . The president, they say, is acting within his Article II powers under the Constitution to defend the U.S. military by retaliating.

“These are very fact-specific determinations,” Foreign Relations Committee member Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) Said in an interview.

“These actions in Iraq [are] very different from any type of attack on Iran, ”Van Hollen added. “The president has no authority to attack Iran, and under these circumstances he would clearly have to come to Congress to seek permission.”

Other Democrats have likened the situation to a small-scale war that could reasonably be considered “hostilities” within the meaning of the War Powers Act. They urge Biden to consider asking Congress for approval to continue hitting Iranian proxies – but only if he thinks it will truly deter the militias.

But Van Hollen noted that the United States under Biden had not yet launched hostilities against Iranian proxies, and “this is obviously a line that cannot be crossed” without the approval of Congress.

Meanwhile, former defense officials called on the president to “be consistent” in his response to the attacks. Mick Mulroy, who oversaw Pentagon Middle East policy during the Trump administration, noted that “Iran must know that it cannot hide behind its proxy forces.”

But Biden has limited options to contain the situation. He has already twice led targeted airstrikes on facilities used by militia groups in Iraq and Syria – once in February and another in late June in response to a series of drone attacks – with little response. effect, even though his administration says the strikes were meant to deter future attacks. And it risks further exacerbating tensions with Iraq, which condemned the June air strike on Iraqi soil as a “flagrant” violation of national sovereignty.

The past week has seen a series of attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria.

Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Jessica McNulty said the United States reserves the right to respond “when and where we choose to protect and defend our people.”

“What we won’t do is wire our potential actions – seen or unseen,” she said.

On Monday, three rockets were fired at the Ain al-Asad air base, then a drone was shot down near the US embassy in Baghdad. Then Tuesday, a drone loaded with explosives attacked US troops at Erbil Air Base in Iraq. On Wednesday, three attacks targeted troops in Iraq and Syria: at least 14 rockets hit al-Asad, injuring two US servicemen; two rockets were fired at the US Embassy in the Baghdad Green Zone; and a drone attacked the Al Omar oil field in eastern Syria, where US troops were hit. hit with multiple rockets June 28.

At the same time, the military is cracking down on misinformation about further attacks on US forces in Syria and rumors that Washington is facing pressure from the Iraqi government to withdraw from the country, both of which officials attributed to Iranian propaganda.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Thursday the department was “deeply concerned” about the attacks and hinted that the president may choose to fight back again.

“We take the safety and security of our populations abroad extremely seriously,” Kirby said. “And you’ve seen us respond appropriately when that safety and security has been threatened. ”

The escalation is also complicating bipartisan efforts on Capitol Hill to restrict the president’s war powers.

Next week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to approve a bill to repeal two authorizations to use military force against Iraq. On Monday, the panel will receive a briefing from senior administration officials on how the repeals might affect current military operations, with a focus on the escalating conflict with Iranian-backed militias.

Biden supports removing obsolete permissions, and the House has already approved similar efforts.

But some Senate Republicans are already promising to make the process difficult, arguing that the repeal of Iraq war permissions of 2002 and 1991 would send a dangerous message as Iran-backed militias continue to strike at US positions in Iraq. They also argue that it would needlessly cripple the Commander-in-Chief – although the 2002 authorization was aimed at overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s government, and the 1991 authorization is effectively obsolete because it dealt with the Gulf War.

“Any justification for AUMF 2002 is long out of date,” said Van Hollen. “US forces are currently in Iraq with the approval of the Iraqi government. So you don’t need a 2002 AUMF to justify the presence of American forces in Iraq.

Still, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told POLITICO he is presenting an amendment to the repeal measures next week that would preserve the president’s ability to attack Iran and its proxies. It’s a top priority for GOP lawmakers, including Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers, the top Republican on the House Armed Services panel, who has urged Biden to “show strength in the face of these attacks. “.

“It must be clear that if our troops are attacked in any part of the world, not only will we respond, but we will respond quickly and forcefully,” Rogers told POLITICO.

Connor O’Brien contributed to this report.

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