This past Monday, President Biden ordered U.S. Forces to carry out airstrikes against targets along the Iraq-Syria border. The Pentagon stated that these targets had been housing munitions for Iranian-backed militia groups. At least four Kataib Sayyed al-Shuhada milita members were killed in the attack. A day later, militia units retaliated against U.S. forces in Iraq. The skirmishes come as U.S. and Iranian officials backchannel in Vienna, hashing out the final details of what might be a renewed JCPOA.
The event also comes as President Biden attempts to make good on his promise to “bring the troops home” from Afghanistan. No one disputes, however, that even if there are a great many fewer boots on the ground, there are still problems in the region that need to be addressed – with force if necessary. Drone strikes, similar to those this week, are one way of compensating – a practice that has its supporters, who see them as a cost-effective and pragmatic solution to near-intractable issues, and detractors, who see them as an extension of ‘forever wars’ at best, unethical at worst. The events of this week gave them a chance to sounds off.
Michael Singh got straight to the point on Twitter, suggesting that maintaining a hard posture against the militia groups was crucial even as negotiations with Iran were ongoing:
Important that the US show willingness to engage in this sort of action even as US-Iran nuclear talks enter a critical phase
Secretary of State Antony Blinken agreed:
We took necessary, appropriate, deliberate action that is designed to limit the risk of escalation, but also to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message
Others, like former U.S. Representative Justin Amash, bashed the continued practice:
There’s no legal authorization for U.S. troops to be in Iraq or Syria. Bring them home and stop bombing people under the guise of self-defense.
The devil likely lies in the details here – U.S. policy in the Middle East, and the role of drone strikes within that strategy, is too complicated for 140 characters. But the lines, at some level, are clearly drawn – are these practices a reasonable response to a dangerous threat, or inadvertently causing the very problems they seek to address?