Biden's failed response to Iranian backed attacks


Last Friday evening, after most Western markets had closed to trading and following days of unusually specific signaling from the administration about the timing, targeting, and conditions conducive to airstrikes, President Joe Biden finally authorized retaliatory attacks on Iran-backed militants in Iraq and Syria.

In response to one of the over 165 assaults on U.S. positions in the region by Iran-aligned Shiite militias, which took the lives of three American soldiers and wounded scores more, Biden ordered strikes on 85 targets using over 125 precision-guided munitions. Seven facilities were reportedly targeted, all of which had been used by elements loyal to or associated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. And while these are not the first strikes on Iran-adjacent targets that the administration has launched since Tehran inaugurated a campaign of region-wide terrorism following the 10/7 massacre, these are the largest in scope.

To hear the administration tell it, this was only the first of what will be several waves of strikes on targets affiliated with Iran and its terrorist proxies. “Our response,” Biden said in a statement, “will continue at a time and place of our choosing.” Kirby agreed. “It’s very possible you will see a tiered approach here,” he said, “not just a single action, but potentially multiple actions over a period of time.” That would be desirable if the goal of this action is to restore regional stability by reimposing caution on Iran and its functionaries. But the prior strikes on IRGC-linked outposts in Iraq and Syria failed to restore deterrence.

This latest round is distinguished from previous rounds only in its scale. Given the extensive signaling ahead of these strikes — signals that were so unmistakable they reportedly contributed to IRGC efforts to evacuate its personnel from potential hotspots — and the administration’s selective targeting, it is a safe assumption that Iran will easily absorb this blow as it has similar previous attacks on its proxies.

That assumption is supported by the ongoing coalition-led effort to impose unacceptable costs on the Iran-backed Houthis for its campaign of piracy and terrorism in and around the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. Over the weekend, the U.S. and British armed forces, with the support of their allies, launched a third wave of strikes on 36 Yemen-based Houthi targets in 13 locations. “This collective action sends a clear message to the Houthis that they will continue to bear further consequences if they do not end their illegal attacks on international shipping and naval vessels,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin declared on the commencement of this latest round.

Following three months of Houthi attacks on international commercial and naval traffic off the Yemeni coast, coalition forces reluctantly transitioned from defensive to offensive operations against this terrorist sect on January 11. Coalition strikes have reportedly degraded the Houthis’ piratical capabilities, but they haven’t shaken their resolve. Just ten days ago, a Houthi missile struck a British oil-carrying vessel in the Gulf of Aden and targeted a U.S. destroyer with a ballistic missile.

A Pentagon statement produced in the wake of these latest attacks restated its intention to “defend lives and the free flow of commerce” against unprovoked aggression. But the Biden administration’s foremost objective was clear from the statement’s outset: “Our aim remains to de-escalate tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea,” it began.

The Biden White House is struggling with the sequence of events here. De-escalation is not a strategic goal; it is a tactic designed to advance a strategic goal, and it’s not always the right one. Tamping down hostilities is the outgrowth of operations that raise the stakes of a conflict beyond the aggressor’s risk tolerance. The administration, though, has spent weeks conveying in word and deed its reluctance to increase the costs of Iranian aggression beyond the many benefits Tehran has accrued as a result of its monthslong campaign of terrorism. I have no reason to believe this weekend’s activity fundamentally alters Iran’s calculations. De-escalation is a two-way street, and the enemy gets a vote.

The administration’s broader strategic failure is a by-product of its belief that the character of the Iranian regime can be fundamentally transformed through engagement. A strategy designed to contain Iran’s regional ambitions demands the abandonment of that folly as a prerequisite, but the administration can’t let that fantasy go. Until it does, the attacks on Americans, U.S. interests, and those of our allies are likely to continue.

Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher (aka HP Pundit) is not a Democrat or Republican. He is a free thinking independent bringing you news and commentary with a dose of much needed common sense.

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