U.S. President Joe Biden has authorized and undertaken an airstrike against Iranian backed militias in Eastern Syria. The airstrike reaffirms what many had come to expect from the former vice president (2009-2017) and President Obama, who first began U.S. intervention in the Syrian Civil War, that President Biden is committed to continuing the never-ending conflict in Syria. The airstrike is estimated to have killed at least 22 people, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights; however, their citation is from unconfirmed Syrian reports. U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who recommended the airstrike, and the Biden Administration overall are quite confident that their target was successfully hit.
Condemned by the Syrian government as ‘cowardly,’ the move has also seen criticism from those in Biden’s own Democratic Party. Two differing criticisms surrounding the airstrike have emerged from the Democratic Party. Some senators such as Tim Kaine (D-VA) have criticized the administration for not receiving congressional approval or at least explaining the reasoning behind the airstrikes. A statement from Kaine’s office read: “The American people deserve to hear the Administration’s rationale for these strikes and its legal justification for acting without coming to Congress.”
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) offers a different criticism surrounding the continuation of the airstrikes in Syria and the never-ending conflict arising with constant U.S. aggression in the area. Sanders noted, “I am very concerned that last night’s strike by US forces in Syria puts our country on the path of continuing the ‘Forever War’ instead of ending it.” There seems to be a quite prominent sense of discontent in the Democratic Party surrounding the Biden administration’s attempts to continue airstrikes in Syria.
Senator Sanders point surrounding the continuation of the ‘Forever War’ is a poignant description of what this airstrike means for U.S. involvement in Syria and the Middle East as a whole. The continuation of ‘big stick ideology’ has continued to prolong the conflict and destabilize the region even further and will most likely remain a prominent part of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. What has come out which has provided a point of hypocrisy for the Biden Administration is tweets from President Biden (when he was running for office) and Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who both quite clearly and openly criticized the Trump Administrations airstrikes in Syria. Biden noted that Trump Administrations actions in Syria were “erratic,” Psaki even goes so far as to question the legitimacy of strikes in the area in general tweeting in 2017, “Also what is the legal authority for strikes? Assad is a brutal dictator. But Syria is a sovereign country.” A point of hypocrisy for the Biden Administration.
Whilst some may see this as striking a group of militants or showing Iran a feat of strength before renewing negotiations between both nations to restore deals the Trump Administration destroyed, this airstrike is without a doubt a prolonging of U.S. involvement of the conflict and is to be a point of concern for the future of the Middle East with Joe Biden as president of the United States. This also presents a challenge for the status of international law. Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor at Notre Dame Law School, made quite clear the illegality of the strikes stating, “The United Nations Charter makes absolutely clear that the use of military force on the territory of a foreign sovereign state is lawful only in response to an armed attack on the defending state for which the target state is responsible,” she said. “None of those elements is met in the Syria strike.”
Time will tell if the Biden Administration continues to strike Syria even with internal pressure from his party.
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