Biden calls for (possibly unconstitutional) retaliatory airstrikes in Syria

Audrey William, Staff Reporter

President Joe Biden ordered a retaliatory airstrike in eastern Syria on Thursday, Feb. 25 that served as a warning towards Iran and marked his first military action as president. Seven missiles were launched, demolishing nine facilities and damaging two others. These facilities were being used by militia groups that the U.S. has blamed for attacks against American interests in Iraq, and a U.S. official has reported that a handful of militants were killed in the strike. The specific number of how many were wounded and killed was not provided by the Pentagon. However, an Iraqi militia official has revealed that the strikes killed one fighter and injured several others. Additionally, Biden has called off the second airstrike in Syria in order to avoid killing civilians after women and children were spotted in the target zone. 

“The targets were chosen to correspond to the recent attacks on facilities and to deter the risk of additional attacks over the coming weeks,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki during a press briefing.

The White House has stated that they are ‘outraged’ by the airforce attack on coalition groups in Iraq that were defended by Iranian-backed militia forces – the event that evoked Biden’s retaliation – yet Iran has refused involvement. The rocket injured four U.S. military contractors and one U.S. service member, and killed a Filipino contractor. An Iranian-backed Shi’ite group by the name of “The Guardians of the Blood Brigade” has attested to being responsible for the attack, but did not provide what their role was. Additionally, they confirmed that they were behind other small attacks that had targeted the U.S. military in northern Iraq. 

“You can’t act with impunity,” said Biden in response to a reporter’s questions about what message he aimed to send with the bombs. “Be careful.”  

The airstrikes that Biden called for—especially because he did not obtain congressional authorization—have sparked criticisms from Democratic lawmakers and much controversy. The idea that it was unconstitutional once again fueled the debate about the legality of long-term U.S. military involvement in Syria. Critics have contested that both Biden and former president Donald Trump’s decisions to send missiles to Syria were illegal due to the lack of approval from Congress. Members of Biden’s party have also demanded more clarity about why military measures were taken without consulting Congress. 

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

“There is absolutely no justification for a president to authorize a military strike that is not in self-defense against an imminent threat without congressional authorization,” California’s 17th district congressman Rep. Ro Khanna said in a press release. “The President should not be taking these actions without seeking explicit authorization. I spoke against endless war with Trump, and I will speak out against it when we have a Democratic President.”

However, Biden argued that the airstrikes he ordered were equable with America’s right to self-defense.

“I directed this military action to protect and defend our personnel and our partners against these attacks and future such attacks,” Biden wrote in his letter. “The United States took this action pursuant to the United States’ inherent right of self-defense as reflected in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.”

Furthermore, Biden argues that under the War Powers Resolution, presidents are permitted to update Congress on military operations within 48 hours after taking action. “I am providing this report as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution (Public Law 93-148).” Biden wrote.

The decision to carry out an airstrike has led to numerous differing opinions on whether it was even necessary in the first place. Aside from the bombing being possibly unconstitutional, people have questioned the forceful and violent measures Biden took.

“We are concerned that President Biden’s first instinct when it comes to regional security in the Middle East appears to be to reach for military options instead of diplomacy,” said Ryan Costello, director of the National Iranian American Council.

However, others believe that Biden’s order to strike Syria was effective and successfully diffused the situation. “We have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq,” said Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby. He also said that the counterattack’s purpose was to punish the offenders, rather than incite conflict. 

Despite that, Iran criticized the U.S. airstrikes against the Iranian-backed militias and disaffirmed holding responsibility for the rocket attacks targeting the U.S. military. Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have rapidly escalated as the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denounced the U.S. strikes to be “illegal and a violation of Syria’s sovereignty” in a meeting with Fuad Hussein. Although Biden’s order was not made with the intent to expand U.S. military connections in Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said they withhold the right to retaliate.