The attack could further strain relations with Iran and lead to more U.S. involvement in the region
Story by Brendon Donoho / Contributing Writer
President Biden’s administration took its first major military action on Thursday by launching airstrikes targeting facilities on the Syrian side of the Syria-Iraq border.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the strike killed at least 22 militiamen, though the SOHR said, “The death toll is expected to rise further as the attack left several militiamen injured, some seriously. There are unconfirmed reports of more casualties.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, “We’re confident that that target was being used by the same Shia militants that conducted the strikes.” He referred to a Feb. 15 rocket strike in Northern Iraq which killed one civilian contractor and wounded a U.S. Service member.
Despite Secretary Austin’s confidence, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told the AP that “right now, we’re not able to give you a certain attribution as to who was behind these attacks.”
The presence of U.S. troops in Iraq in the first place is hotly contested as the Iraqi Parliament voted to expel American troops from Iraqi territory and file a United Nations complaint against the U.S. in January of 2020 in response to the widely criticized assassination by the United States of Iranian general, Qasim Soleimani.
Biden’s decision to drone strike targets within Syrian borders has drawn considerable criticism on legal grounds as well, with Notre Dame Law and International Dispute Resolution Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell stating that the move could violate international law.
“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,” said Professor O’Connell, “None of those elements is met in the Syria strike.”
In addition, a past tweet from current press secretary Jen Psaki have resurfaced in which she criticized the decision of the Trump administration to carry out a strike on Syrian soil, saying “what is the legal authority for strikes? Assad is a brutal dictator. But Syria is a sovereign country.”
Many opponents of the recent attack have pointed out a seeming double standard in the application of this statement.
The pair of bombings are widely viewed as a part of the saga surrounding the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or “Iran Nuclear Deal” as it is often called. President Biden has stated publicly on multiple occasions his desire to re-enter the JCPOA, a deal which the Trump administration broke in mid-2018 by reapplying sanctions which the agreement had removed.
An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report from the May of 2019, just after the U.S.’ violation of the treaty, found that Iran was still complying with limits placed upon their nuclear capacity, but this would change just a few months later when it became clear that the JCPOA would be terminated and sanctions reapplied, prompting Iran to announce it’s intent to breach the limits set on their nuclear capacity as the EU failed to protect the nation from American sanctions.
Rejoining the JCPOA was a key element of the Biden campaign’s foreign policy vision, unsurprisingly as the treaty is seen as one of President Obama’s most meaningful legacies. However, critics say that the administration’s actions are counterproductive to this goal.
Trita Parsi, founder of the National Iranian American Council and author of a recent book on Obama’s diplomatic work in Iran, said “even before diplomacy has begun, the Biden administration has seemingly initiated a highly unproductive blame game…The administration’s messaging has been to emphasize that Iran is the party out of compliance with the JCPOA…and that the future of the deal hinges on Iran coming back into compliance.”
The claim of Iran’s guilt is largely false as the United States initiated the breakup of the JCPOA by imposing sanctions which the treaty was meant to lift. All indications from outside investigators show that Iran was complying with the limits on its program before the U.S.’ violation. According to Paragraph 36 of the agreement, Iran had the right to exit the deal once the terms were violated.
Iran’s government announced in December of 2020 that they would agree to rejoin the JCPOA as is if the Biden Administration would lift sanctions first.
Nevertheless, the Biden administration’s posture seems to be that of insisting on concessions from Iran in order to start any kind of process of reforming the agreement.
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