January 30, 2024

Biden is Right to Want to Avoid War with Iran Following Militia Attack on U.S. Forces in Jordan

Three American service members were killed on Sunday, and over thirty were injured, in a drone strike the White House says was conducted by “Iran-backed militant groups”. Now, Biden is indicating that the U.S. will respond and at a time of its choosing, while indicating that the U.S. does not seek a broader war with Iran.

However, many other lawmakers who won’t own the consequences have exploited this tragic attack to call for more war. This is the wrong move – strategically and morally. Expanding the war to Iran would increase threats to U.S. troops and harm all the peoples of the region. Instead of getting sucked into an open-ended and devastating regional conflict, Biden should work toward a permanent ceasefire and de-escalation across the region. Please see below for additional background:

Bombing inside of Iran – as called for by some Senators – would start a catastrophic war between the U.S. and Iran.

  • Iran has largely stood on the sidelines in the regional fighting as many of the militias in its network of proxies have engaged in escalation – this would change if there are U.S. airstrikes on Iranian territory.
  • The Islamic Republic has prepared for many years for U.S. strikes inside the country, with plans to retaliate to inflict significant casualties on U.S. forces.
  • Trump’s reckless assassination of Qassem Soleimani outside of Iranian soil was not cost free – Iran unleashed a devastating missile bombardment of U.S. bases in Iraq that led to more than 100 traumatic brain injuries.

U.S. officials say there is no evidence that Iran directed the attack

  • Iran has increasingly delegated decision-making to these militias and does not direct them at the operational level following the assassination of Soleimani.
  • Iran has denied involvement in the Jordan attack.
  • There have been significant frictions both among militia groups in the so-called “axis of resistance” concerning their risk threshold, as well as between the groups and their primary benefactor in Iran. This includes militia forces indicating that existing dynamics, wherein the U.S. seeks to avoid Iranian casualties while discounting Iraqi militia casualties, has been unacceptable and that the U.S. should pay a cost for killing Iraqis. 

Trump’s policies, and Biden’s inability to break from these policies, produced a significant escalation in attacks on U.S. troops. Only diplomacy has halted attacks on U.S. troops.

  • There have been over 150 attacks on U.S. troops since the Israeli campaign in Gaza began on October 17.
  • Attacks on U.S. troops halted during the humanitarian pause between Israel and Hamas between roughly Nov. 24 and December 1, with only one rocket attack on a U.S. base in Syria that caused no injuries.
  • Previously, there were no significant attacks on U.S. troops from 2012 to 2018 during the negotiations that produced the Iran nuclear agreement and while the agreement was being implemented, according to the State Department. Attacks resumed after Trump abrogated the agreement.
  • Attacks rose by 400 percent between 2019 and 2020 when Trump designated the IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and assassinated Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, according to the State Department.
  • Recently, there had been no attacks on U.S. troops during backchannel negotiations that led to five Iranian Americans being freed from Iran and a calming of tensions.
  • The track record is clear: whereas military strikes have not reduced threats to U.S. forces, negotiations have.

Many Members of Congress are Rightly Warning Against War with Iran. 

  • Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said “Getting the US involved in another war in the Middle East would be a very bad idea…I have colleagues who are calling for the US to engage in military action inside Iran against the Iranian government. If they feel that, they should put that on the floor and let’s have a debate and vote about it, but we shouldn’t stumble or slide our way into another war in the Middle East without Congressional robust debate.”
  • Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) said “To the chicken hawks calling for war with Iran, you’re playing into the enemy’s hands—and I’d like to see you send your sons and daughters to fight. We must have an effective, strategic response on our terms and our timeline. Deterrence is hard; war is worse.”
  • Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH) said “America is being baited into war by foreign powers and domestic fools. Endless wars dissipate our strength. We need to decline these open invitations to war and get American foreign policy focused on our own security.” 
  • Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-CA) said,  “We also can’t give in to the war hawks who look for any reason to go to war with Iran,” Jacobs said. “Direct confrontation with Iran will certainly lead to the deaths of more U.S. service members and could easily expand into a regional conflict.” 
  • Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) said, “We must reject calls from some in Washington to increase the fighting. The path to peace and security is not through war – we must change course. And should President Biden seek expansive military retaliation to the attacks, he must come to Congress.”

The attack on January 28th, 2024 that killed 3 American service members is the latest in this months-long back-and-forth regional escalation rooted in Israel’s war on Gaza. The recent loss of life is both devastating and tragic. However, it did not occur in a vacuum, with over 160 tit-for-tat exchanges between U.S. and Iranian-allied forces in Syria and Iraq, in addition to escalation by the Houthis. We must recognize that a direct military retaliation against Iran risks escalating further violence and endangering countless innocent American, Iranian, Palestinian, and Israeli lives alike. 

We must be wary of reckless calls for direct strikes on Iran. Overgeneralizing these complex regional dynamics risks igniting an unnecessary regional war. 

It is important to recognize that while local militias responsible for such attacks are aligned with Iran, Tehran does not exert absolute control over these groups. We need to understand this attack in the context of the past 150+ tit-for-tat military exchanges we’ve seen between American and forces allied with Iran in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and now Jordan. 

We must be wary of further escalation that could lead to catastrophic consequences for civilians on all sides. 

The constant overuse of the classic “Iran-backed” identifier exemplifies a dangerous lack of regional awareness. While the Houthis, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other Iranian-aligned groups in Syria and Iraq accept support from Tehran, they are not a monolith and operate within their own regional, political, and cultural context. Given the heightened internal regional tensions, navigating the diplomatic route with utmost care is crucial rather than resorting to military action. Neglecting this approach risks rapidly escalating the situation into a full-blown war among all involved parties.

Calls for direct strikes on Iran lack both the moral and strategic awareness of a cogent strategy that avoids regional war. Time and time again, we have witnessed how tit-for-tat escalation with Iran edges us closer and closer to war and further and further away from peace and stability. Trump’s abandoning of the JCPOA– and assassinating General Soleimani without congressional authorization decimated U.S. diplomatic capability. And now, Biden has acted as a custodian of Trump’s Middle East Iran Policy – failing to restore the JCPOA and failing to secure a bilateral ceasefire in Israel and Palestine.

ICYMI Previous Statement on the attack on 3 U.S. Servicemembers

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