U.S. President Joe Biden approved military airstrikes against Iranian-backed militia groups in Syria, the Pentagon confirmed on Thursday. The airstrikes were targeting facilities near the Syrian-Iraqi border, which are often used by Iranian-backed militia groups. The airstrikes come within just 37 days of Joe Biden’s administration, making them the first ones approved by Biden in his tenure. The Pentagon claims that these airstrikes are retaliatory strikes for a rocket attack in Irbil in Iraq earlier this month which resulted in the death of one non-American contractor and the injury of six others including a U.S. service member. It should be noted that Iran has denied any involvement in the Erbil rocket attack.
The reactions to these airstrikes were very contrasting. Whilst the Pentagon in its statement claimed that the airstrikes were a “proportionate military response” and would “de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq,” the overall online reaction to the airstrikes was negative, with both Republicans and Progressive Democrats questioning the airstrikes, sometimes almost in the same words. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris; and the President himself, Joe Biden, all faced accusations of hypocrisy as their assumed positions and stances regarding U.S.’s involvement in the Middle East conflict went viral online.
Influential U.S. Conservative and Republican, Jack Posobiec called out W.H. Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Twitter for a tweet dating April 2017 in which she had questioned the authority of the United States to launch airstrikes into a sovereign country like Syria. The context for Jen Psaki’s tweet was the then U.S. President Donald Trump authorizing airstrikes in Syria in retaliation to Bashar al-Assad’s alleged chemical weapon attacks on Syrian civilians. The response from Mr. Posobiec simply reads, “Great Question, Jen!”
This sentiment of conservative Republican Jack Posobiec was echoed from an unlikely place, with Somalia-born Democrat Congresswoman Rep. Ilhan Omar joining in the chorus to retweet the same Jen Psaki tweet, with a nearly identical sarcasm laden caption of “Great question”.
Mr. Biden’s Vice President, Kamala Harris also had to face the music over her 2018 tweets, in which she had questioned the “legal rationale” of the then President Trump’s airstrikes and exhorted Trump to lay out “comprehensive strategy in consultation with Congress.” It is to be noted that Joe Biden has not yet ‘consulted’ the U.S. Congress about a Syria policy.
War-hawk Joe Biden
In October 2019 in a speech in Iowa, Joe Biden referred to then-President Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Northern Syria as “erratic” and “impulsive” which will “endanger our troops.” Therefore, the Syrian airstrikes within just 37 days of Joe Biden’s administration do not come as a huge surprise to keen observers. Joe Biden’s political record, which is extensive, makes it very clear that he is pro-war. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Joe Biden voted for Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2001, a legislation which is highly responsible for U.S. Military intervention in Afghanistan, the Philippines, Georgia, Yemen, Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq and Somalia.
In 2002, Joe Biden did not only vote, but also championed the effort for the Iraq War, which led to the death of Saddam Hussain and has since then marred the region in a permanent state of instability, as lakhs of Iraqis and thousands of American soldiers have died from the war and its aftermath effects. In 2012, under the Vice Presidency of Joe Biden, NATO did a bombing campaign in Libya, aiding the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi. Libya has been failed state ever since, with open slave markets.
In 2013, the Obama administration, in which Joe Biden was the Vice President, had secretly authorized the CIA to supply the Syrian rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian Government with weapons. This weapons supply program was known as Timber Sycamore, and was disbanded in mid-2017 by the Trump administration. One of the reported ‘downsides‘ of this program was that some of the rebels funded and trained under this program defected to the Islamic State (IS) and other radical groups.
But perhaps the most damning evidence is Joe Biden’s own words. In October 2014 at an event in Harvard Kennedy School, a candid Joe Biden basically admitted to U.S. allies fueling the rise of ISIS by funding and arming Syrian rebels in opposition to Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian Government. “The Turks… the Saudis, the Emirates, etc, what were they doing? They were so determined to take down (Syrian President Bashar al) Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tonnes of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad, except that people who were being supplied were Al-Nusra and Al-Qaida,” Biden said in October 2014 to a room full of students at Harvard University.
There are some similarities between President Trump’s April 2017 airstrikes in Syria, and President Biden’s airstrikes in Syria yesterday. However, there are some stark differences. Besides the obvious difference that Biden approved the launch of airstrikes just 37 days into his administration, as opposed to Trump’s airstrikes in April, there is another major difference between the two airstrikes.
President Trump’s 2017 April Syrian airstrikes were approved in response to an alleged chemical weapon attack by Bashar al-Assad on his own people. Videos of this chemical attack had gone viral, and there was immense pressure on Donald Trump, both from the media and the political establishment to approve the airstrikes. President Biden’s airstrikes are classified by the Pentagon as a “proportionate military response.” However, the Irbil rocket attack earlier this month did not result in the death of a single American, with only a single non-American casualty, and there was no pressure on the president to launch the attack from any quarter. Also, the ‘proportionate’ response in the form of airstrikes resulted in the deaths of at least 22 Iran-backed militia fighters, according to The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group. Therefore, the argument to classify President Biden’s airstrikes in Syria as a ‘proportionate’ response is on shaky ground at best.