Biden bombs Syria: ‘Self-defense’ or an act of war?

President Joe Biden engaged in his first high-profile military operation yesterday, launching an airstrike on Syria that left as many as 22 dead. This attack appears to have targeted facilities, equipment and fighters of Iraqi resistance organizations affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Forces, one of the main groups responsible for liberating much of Iraq from ISIS rule. Many PMF-affiliated militias also have a presence across the border in Syria with the permission of the Syrian government. The attack is just the latest instance of the outrageous and ongoing violation of Syria’s sovereignty by the United States.

The Biden administration claimed these latest bombings were justified as “self-defense” in retaliation for rocket attacks conducted over the last several weeks against U.S. military installations inside Iraq. U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin claimed to be “confident that that target [of the bombing raid] was being used by the same Shia militants that conducted the [rocket] strikes.” Member organizations of the Popular Mobilization Forces have said they were not involved. Iran, which the Pentagon suggests is equipping and directing the Iraqi militias, likewise denied any involvement. But even if U.S. claims were true, resisting an occupation by force does not justify the occupation nor convert the occupying power into the victim.

Biden’s airstrikes in Syria demonstrates continuity of U.S. policy in the region. Donald Trump had previously targeted PMF-affiliated militias when he ordered the murder of some of their highest ranking leaders in a brazen drone bombing that also claimed the life of top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. The world instantly recognized the danger of Trump’s actions, which put the entire region on the verge of all-out war. Only an immediate response by the international anti-war movement, and later Iran’s carefully calibrated military retaliation that injured but did not kill U.S. troops, forced Trump to back down from the precipice. 

For its part, the Iraqi parliament voted to immediately expel all U.S. troops. This move was accompanied by mobilizations of millions of Iraqis in some of the largest demonstrations in the country’s history. But U.S. occupying troops remain, flouting Iraqi sovereignty and the obvious will of its people. This is the reason rockets periodically hit U.S. targets inside the country. 

The Pentagon’s press secretary also absurdly stated that this attack on Iraqis inside Syria was meant to punish the fighters without escalating already-high tensions with Iran. Of course, military attacks have an inherent tendency to in fact rapidly escalate tensions. Biden claimed weeks ago that he is interested in returning the United States to the Iran nuclear deal, which would mean an end to open hostility and sanctions against the country. But he has been widely criticized for setting preconditions crafted to be unacceptable to Iran. Tensions can only rise so long as Biden stays on this track designed to make diplomacy impossible. 

Attack condemned around the world

Voices from around the world condemned this act of war, recognizing the clear continuity of U.S. aggression between the Trump and Biden administrations.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov remarked that the strike against his country’s long-time ally Syria was conducted with just “four or five minutes” of warning from the U.S. government to Moscow. At the invitation of the Syrian government Russia maintains a military presence inside the country to assist in the war against religious fundamentalist armed groups. If the United States had accidentally killed Russian soldiers, the world would have been plunged into a new crisis. 

For all the talk about Iran, not much is being made in the major U.S. media about the fact that this attack was conducted on Syrian soil. The United States is not at war with Syria and has not been invited into Syria, but regardless has established permanent occupation bases there on the pretext of fighting ISIS. The Syrian Foreign Ministry stated it “strongly condemns the cowardly American aggression” and that “it is a bad sign regarding the policies of the new U.S. administration, which should adhere to international [law].”

Even members of Biden’s own Democratic Party admitted that the administration was in violation of domestic law. “Congress should … require clear legal justifications for military action, especially inside theaters like Syria, where Congress has not explicitly authorized any American military action,” according to Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democratic Senator, pointed out the unconstitutional nature of Biden conducting “offensive military action without congressional approval.” Representative Ro Khanna of California reminded the public in his condemnation of the deadly airstrike that Biden is now the fifth consecutive president to order strikes in the Middle East.

If Congress is serious about their opposition to this type of military action, they should refuse to write the checks that keep the war machine running. The U.S. military budget, passed almost unanimously every year, is higher than ever and more dangerous to ordinary people around the world each day. Meanwhile people freeze to death in foreseeable winter storms or die by the tens of thousands of a preventable viral infection here in the United States.

After the bombs fell on Syria this week, the Pentagon said in a statement that the operation has sent “an unambiguous message” — presumably that the United States is set to continue being the main belligerent force illegally occupying and committing acts of war in the Middle East. The anti-war movement and people of conscience around the world must send our own message by organizing against this imperialist aggression that continues decade after decade, no matter who is in the White House.

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