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Biden’s growing headache is also known for the former longtime senator and vice president, who before him watched three consecutive American presidents wage seemingly endless wars in the region with perpetual Congressional approvals.
Republicans criticized Biden’s “bare essentials” approach this week, noting that his two retaliatory strikes failed to deter the Iranian officials.
“The ongoing attack by Iran-backed militias on US personnel in Iraq cannot be tolerated,” said Jim Inhofe, Senator Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Forces Committee, in a statement to POLITICO. “President Biden must come up with a real strategy to deter and stop these attacks, rather than continuing his minimalist approach that does not deter Iran or its militias and puts Americans’ lives at increased risk.”
While recognizing that the current situation is unsustainable, Biden’s democratic allies counter that the president is not empowered to launch offensive strikes against Iran-backed militia groups without first seeking congressional approval. The President, they say, is acting within his powers under Article II of the Constitution to defend U.S. soldiers through retaliation.
“These are very factual findings,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), A member of the Foreign Relations Committee, in an interview.
“These actions in Iraq [are] very different from any attack on Iran, ”added Van Hollen. “The president has no power to attack Iran and under these circumstances he would clearly have to come to Congress to get approval.”
Other Democrats have compared the situation to a small war that could reasonably be viewed as “enmity” under the War Powers Act. They urge Biden to consider asking Congress for approval to keep beating the Iranian elected officials – but only if he believes it will really scare off the militias.
Van Hollen noted, however, that the US under Biden has not yet initiated hostilities against the Iranian deputies, and “this is obviously a limit that cannot be crossed without the approval of Congress”.
Meanwhile, former defense officials urged the president to respond “consistently” to the attacks. Mick Mulroy, who oversaw the Pentagon’s Middle East policy during the Trump administration, stated that “Iran needs to know that it cannot hide behind its proxies”.
But Biden has limited options to contain the situation. He has carried out targeted air strikes on militia facilities in Iraq and Syria twice – once in February and again in late June in response to a spate of drone strikes – despite his government claiming the attacks were intended to counter future attacks. And he risks escalating tensions with Iraq, which condemned the June air strike on Iraqi soil as a “blatant” violation of national sovereignty.
In the past week there have been a number of attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria.
Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Jessica McNulty said the United States reserves the right to “respond at any time and place of our choosing to protect and defend our people”.
“What we’re not going to do is telegraph 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 on Tuesday, a Drone loaded with explosives attacked US troops at the Erbil Air Force Base in Iraq. Three attacks targeted troops in Iraq and Syria on Wednesday: At least 14 rockets hit al-Asad, injured two US soldiers; 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 missiles on June 28th.
At the same time, the military is fighting misinformation about further attacks on US forces in Syria and rumors that Washington is under pressure from the Iraqi government to withdraw from the country – both of which officials have attributed to Iranian propaganda.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Thursday the department was “deeply concerned” about the attacks and hinted that the president might choose to retaliate again.
“We take the safety of our people overseas very seriously,” said Kirby. “And you’ve seen how we adequately take revenge when this security is threatened.”
The escalation also complicates bipartisan efforts on Capitol Hill to curtail the president’s powers of war.
Next week, the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee is expected to pass a bill to revoke two permits for the use of military force against Iraq. On Monday, the panel received a briefing from senior government officials on how the lifts could affect current military operations, with an emphasis on the escalating conflict with Iran-backed militias.
Biden supports the removal of the obsolete permits, and the House of Representatives has already approved similar efforts.
However, some Senate Republicans are already promising to complicate the process, arguing that the revocation of the permits for the 2002 and 1991 Iraq war would send a dangerous message for the Iran-backed militias that continue to defeat American positions in Iraq. They also claim that doing so would unnecessarily paralyze the Commander-in-Chief – although the 2002 permit was intended to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s government and the 1991 permit is de facto out of date as it dealt with the Gulf War.
“Any justification for the AUMF 2002 is long gone,” 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 this presence of American forces in Iraq. “
Still, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told POLITICO that next week he will introduce a repeal measures change that would preserve the president’s ability to attack Iran and its deputies. It is a top priority for GOP lawmakers, including Alabama MP Mike Rogers, the top Republican on the House Armed Services panel, who urged Biden “to show strength” in the face of these attacks.
“It needs to be made clear that when our troops are attacked in any part of the world, we not only react, but also react quickly and forcefully,” Rogers told POLITICO.
Connor O’Brien contributed to this report.