Joe Biden Syria Airstrike Prompts Hypocrisy Accusations

President Joe Biden's first known action against Iran-backed militias in the Middle East has prompted bipartisan concerns that his administration will follow a historic pattern of reactionary American military action in the Middle East.

Liberals and conservatives alike noted it took just over a month between Biden taking office and launching his first strike on Iranian-backed forces in the Middle East. Biden is also overseeing continued anti-terrorism operations against Islamic State militants and other groups in the Middle East and Africa.

The airstrikes in Syria targeted Iranian-linked Iraqi militias—among them Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada—killed at least 17 according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The operation was retaliation for a rocket attack on a military base in northern Iraq earlier this month, targeting American and allied troops based there. One civilian contractor was killed and several Americans injured in the attack, which was claimed by the Iran-linked Guardians of Blood group.

Biden allies praised the president for clear but relatively measured retaliation, suggesting the operation was needed to deter future Iranian-linked attacks on American and allied troops and interest in Iraq and elsewhere.

But others cited past criticism by Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki of former President Donald Trump's operations in Syria, accusing the new administration of hypocrisy.

Progressive Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, for example, quoted a 2017 tweet from Psaki posted after Trump ordered strikes on a Syrian airbase following a chemical weapons attack against rebel forces.

"Also what is the legal authority for strikes?" Psaki then wrote. "Assad is a brutal dictator. But Syria is a sovereign country." Omar quoted the tweet Thursday and wrote alongside it: "Great question."

In 2018, Trump ordered further strikes against Syrian chemical weapons infrastructure after another attack on civilian targets by President Bashar al-Assad's forces. Then, Harris expressed concern at the legal basis for such action.

"I strongly support our men and women in uniform and believe we must hold Assad accountable for his unconscionable use of chemical weapons," Harris wrote on Twitter.

"But I am deeply concerned about the legal rationale of last night's strikes...The president needs to lay out a comprehensive strategy in Syria in consultation with Congress—and he needs to do it now."

It is likely the Biden administration's legal basis for the strike is the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), hurriedly passed after the 9/11 attacks and subsequently used by American presidents to conduct operations and assassinations across the Middle East, Asia and Africa during the sprawling "War on Terror."

A subsequent AUMF justifying the use of force against Iraq was passed in 2002 paving the way for America's disastrous invasion and occupation of the country, helping spark the regional chaos that has left Biden and his predecessors mired in the Middle East.

Biden, then a senator, was among those who voted for the new powers. Critics of the AUMF say the powers have been abused by presidents and their military officials, and have called for it to be repealed.

Biden's strikes may have raised legal concerns, but it will have at least partially allayed fears that his administration will be weak on Iranian influence in the Middle East. Trump and his allies have consistently warned that Biden's election would be a boon for Tehran, and his desired revival of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action would encourage more Iranian-backed militia activity in the region.

Hawkish Sen. Lindsey Graham, for example, wrote on Twitter: "Appreciate Biden Administration striking Iranian-backed militia groups in Syria who've been pushing attacks against American forces in Iraq and other locations. It is imperative that our enemies know that attacking Americans comes at a cost."

US jets on aircraft carrier in SCS
This file photo shows an F/A-18 hornet fighter jet during a routine training aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier in the South China sea on April 10, 2018. TED ALJIBE/AFP via Getty Images/Getty