Last week our new President delivered a 500 pound bomb "message."
Biden launched an air strike against the facilities of Iran-backed militias in Syria that have been launching rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq. When asked today what message he was sending, he said: “You can’t act with impunity. Be careful.”
Uncharacteristically, a smidgen of me is sympathetic to what Biden claims to be doing here: he's emphasizing that, though he intends to put all he can into resurrecting the Obama-era "deal" that constrained Iranian development of a nuclear weapon, he's not taking lightly any adjacent provocations, especially threats to U.S. troops. Curbing an Iranian push for nukes is a good idea. And after a president who wouldn't do anything to respond Russia's putting a bounty out for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, a U.S. president might need to take a stand.
But it remains worth mentioning that if U.S. troops weren't blundering about in tangled conflicts in other people's countries, there would be less need for such a show of force.
And there doesn't seem much doubt that Biden is continuing one of the worst features of a lawless chief executive: presidents aren't supposed to make war without authorization from Congress. Senators know this and also have mixed feelings.
Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine said Friday that Congress "must be fully briefed on this matter expeditiously," noting that "offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional absent extraordinary circumstances."
Democratic Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations committee with Kaine, said that the recent strikes by Iranian-backed militias on Iraq bases were "unacceptable" and that he inherently trusts Biden's national security decision making ability. But he added that retaliatory strikes that are not necessary to "prevent an imminent threat, must fall within the definition of an existing" authorization for use of military force.
"Congress should hold this administration to the same standard it did prior administrations, and require clear legal justifications for military action, especially inside theaters like Syria, where Congress has not explicitly authorized any American military action," said Murphy.
California Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna reacted more bluntly.
"This makes President Biden the seventh consecutive US president to order strikes in the Middle East. ... 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."
Here in the U.S. we don't think much about this (comes of being an empire) but this airstrike violated international law. So explains Rutgers Law professor Adil Ahmad Haque at Just Security:
The U.S. airstrikes almost certainly violated international law, for two basic reasons. The airstrikes did not repel an ongoing armed attack, halt an imminent one, or immediately respond to an armed attack that was in fact over but may have appeared ongoing at the time ... And the airstrikes were carried out on the territory of another State, without its consent, against a non-State actor (or two, or more)... These two reasons, combined, are decisive. It cannot be lawful to use armed force on the territory of another State when it is clear that no armed attack by a non-State actor is ongoing or even imminent.
It's very difficult for this country to understand that we can't claim to be essential pillars of "the international liberal order" if we ignore the legal apparatus that order has fostered when we find it convenient.