Biden faces blowback from progressives over airstrikes against Iran-backed militias on Iraq-Syria border

Biden
President Joe Biden Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images
  • Progressives are raising questions about Biden’s latest airstrikes against Iran-backed militias.
  • Rep. Ro Khanna told Insider the strikes show “the need for a broader strategy to bring our troops home.”
  • The Pentagon said the strikes were in response to drone attacks on US troops in Iraq.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Progressive Democrats are raising questions about the rationale behind airstrikes that President Joe Biden ordered against Iran-backed militias on the Iraq-Syria border on Sunday, and warning about the potential for a broader conflict.

“I will be briefed on the imminent harm to our troops who the President has a duty to protect and why the Administration believed this was necessary for self-defense,” Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, told Insider. “What this shows, however, is 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.”

These were not the first strikes against Iran-backed militias in the region. After Biden ordered similar strikes in February, he faced bipartisan criticism. The Biden administration justified the February strikes and Sunday’s attacks under Article II of the Constitution, which designates the president as the commander in chief of the US military. Multiple administrations have taken military actions based on a broad interpretation of this.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in comments to Politico reporter Andrew Desiderio expressed concerns about Biden invoking Article II as the legal rationale for strikes against Iran-backed militias. Murphy said the fighting between the US and Iran-backed militias is starting to look like a “low-scale war.”

“I’m just as worried about the expansion of Article II authority interpretation as I am about the expansion of existing AUMF interpretation,” Murphy said, in an apparent reference to the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force – laws that every president since George W. Bush have used to justify military actions and operations in countries across the globe.

Lawmakers in both parties have moved to repeal both of these post-9/11 laws – and the Biden administration recently endorsed a bill to scrap the 2002 AUMF – though there are also those who would like to see them kept in place.

“While I commend President Biden’s defensive strike on the proxies’ facilities in Syria and Iraq, I believe these actions are overdue and highlight the continued need for the 2002 AUMF,” GOP Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a tweet emphasized that Congress “has authority over War Powers and should be consulted before any escalation.”

“This constant cycle of violence and retribution is a failed policy and will not make any of us safer,” Omar said.

The Pentagon said Sunday’s “defensive” strikes were in response to drone attacks on US troops and facilities in Iraq, which the Pentagon said were used by Iran-linked militants to plot attacks against Americans.

“Specifically, the US strikes targeted operational and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one location in Iraq, both of which lie close to the border between those countries,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a statement said that he will be “seeking more information from the Administration in the coming days regarding what specifically predicated these strikes, any imminent threats they believed they were acting against, and more details on the legal authority the Administration relied upon.”

“The United States must always take decisive action to protect our personnel and interests against attacks,” Menendez also said. “Over the past year, Iranian-backed militia groups have increasingly targeted U.S. persons and assets, including killing Americans and coalition forces earlier this year.”

The strikes also came as the Biden administration is vying to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Iranian and US diplomats have been engaged in indirect talks in Vienna aimed at restoring the pact, even as tensions remain high. Iran’s incoming president, Ebrahim Raisi, last week said he endorses reviving the deal but underscored that he would not relinquish support for regional militias that have fomented attacks against US forces. Raisi is a hardliner who could cause major problems for Biden.

In comments to reporters in the Oval Office on Monday, Biden reiterated the administration’s position that he had the constitutional authority to conduct the strikes.

“I directed last night’s airstrikes targeting sites used by the Iranian backed militia groups responsible for recent attacks on US personnel in Iraq,” Biden said. “And I have that authority under Article II and even those up in the Hill who are reluctant to acknowledge that, have acknowledged that’s the case.”