President Biden has made an armed attack in Syria claiming to have targeted alleged Iranian-backed militia, Kataib Hezbollah, and other affiliated groups. Fact: resorting to an armed attack on a sovereign nation is allowed only when that country makes an armed attack against the defending country. Fact: Syria did not make an armed attack against the United States nor was there an imminent Syrian attack directed against US territory. Fact: the American attack violated international law. Furthermore, in case Biden needs a reminder: Article 2(4) of the UN Charter unequivocally forbids nations from using threat or force against each other.
When Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, the Europeans told the Iranians they would be unable to provide Iran relief from US sanctions. President Trump had secretly threatened Europe that if it did not trigger the mechanism for imposing snapback sanctions on Iran, it would see a 25% tariff imposed on European automobiles. A European official said, “We didn’t want to look weak, so we agreed to keep the existence of the threat a secret.”
The Europeans had decided to push Iran off the cliff to save their own skin. They had decided they were better off selling their BMWs and Bentleys in the US market than to do this otherworldly thing called justice. And in case we missed the timeline, Europe was then lecturing Pakistan and China about protecting human rights and religious freedoms. What a joke! Given this Biden was convinced that making a U-turn back into the deal wouldn’t be an easy sell in Tehran. So, he did what battle hardened warriors have always done: he made an armed attack to send a signal. Last time I checked, making violent attacks against a government before joining them for talks at the table was the modus operandi of the Taliban. Imran Khan was labelled Taliban Khan for his advocacy of talking to the Taliban to settle the war. I believe borrowing Taliban’s tactics should earn Biden the same title.
The Biden administration claims the attack on Syrian soil was in response to a Kataib rocket attack on Iraqi soil targeting the American military base in Erbil. For US, the border between Syria and Iraq is meaningless. ISIS would strongly agree. But Kataib Hezbollah has denied any role in the attack. Rather, the Erbil attack was claimed by a previously unknown group called Guardians of the Blood. US officials made the case that this group appeared to be associated with Kataib Hezbollah.
Think about it. The alleged assassination attempt drove Biden to send missiles. With half a million Americans dead from the pandemic and a chronically divided America, Biden was able to find a cause for violating the international law by making an armed attack within the first few weeks of being in the Oval Office.
The missile seemed to have a dual purpose; creating violence and sending a message to Iran and the world that America is going to reconsider its war ending love affair Trump had indulged in.
This attack instantly resurrected the topic of meagre American presence in Iraq and the fragile situation in Afghanistan. The missile helps Biden lobby for a continued and stronger presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Had being attacked on a foreign land been the reason to provoke such an American response, we would have seen missiles flying over Tel Aviv after Israel killed 34 US sailors on the spy ship Liberty, in 1967.
This isn’t about the defence of American personnel but the justification needed to remain at war. That is the most important exercise of an American President and expects the least dereliction of duty on that front.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 4th, 2021.