Joe Biden Should Stop Treating American Soldiers as Targets

Joe Biden Should Stop Treating American Soldiers as Targets

U.S. security is not served by promiscuous intervention and endless war. Instead, America is best served by avoiding involvement in conflicts of little importance to the United States.

A few days ago, the military airlifted a service member from Erbil Air Base in Iraq to Germany for medical treatment. In critical but stable condition, yet another American was seriously injured by hostile Iraqi militias. The Biden administration responded with a strike on Kataib Hezbollah and “affiliated groups,” according to the U.S. Central Command, killing several “militants.” However, the Iraqi government, a nominal U.S. ally, criticized the response, which Baghdad said injured eighteen people, including civilians.

Attacks, with mortars, drones, or missiles, on Americans at bases in Iraq and Syria, as well as the embassy in Iraq, have become routine—more than 100 since October 17, causing scores of injuries. “The President places no higher priority than the protection of American personnel serving in harm’s way,” insisted National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson. Alas, this claim is evident nonsense since U.S. service members continue to be injured in Iraq and Syria without clear strategic objectives.

She went on to threaten: “The United States will act at a time and in a manner of our choosing should these attacks continue.” However, the Iran-backed groups obviously have not been deterred. This policy is grossly unfair to service members. As the Wall Street Journal observed, “Americans who sign up to serve in uniform know the risks, but serving as drone catchers because Washington refuses to deter the enemy isn’t supposed to be among the occupational hazards.”

Unfortunately, the president cares little for either the nation’s interest or the military’s well-being. Some 900 Americans are stationed in Syria and 2500 in Iraq for no apparent purpose other than offering a target to Iran and its proxies. The administration accepts attacks as inevitable, retaliates only as required for PR purposes, and hopes that nothing spirals out of control. But at this rate, a drone or missile will likely hit a crowded vehicle or building soon. Then, there could be multiple Americans dead. The public would demand a convincing explanation and, more importantly, a serious response. And the United States could find itself in another Middle Eastern war.

The administration should change course. Naturally, the ever-militaristic Journal insisted: “The irony is that the biggest tonic for disorder in the Middle East would be restoring American deterrence. That would mean warning Tehran that its military and nuclear assets are at risk if it doesn’t call off the proxy dogs.”

That sentiment sounds like the delusional optimism behind many U.S. wars. After the Trump administration assassinated Tehran’s Qassem Soliemani nearly four years ago, Iranian missile strikes on U.S. facilities caused dozens of serious injuries and could have done much worse. Tehran continues to threaten revenge for his death and is in a much stronger position today. Washington is busy, very busy, fighting a proxy war against Russia, worrying about facing China over Taiwan, sacrificing its international reputation to enable Israel’s Gaza campaign that disproportionately impacts civilians, and sending ships to the Red Sea to confront Houthi attacks on international shipping. Does the administration want to add a full-scale war against Iran—certainly unpopular, inevitably costly, and likely destabilizing—to this list?

Moreover, Iran’s proxies have minds of their own. The Soleimani drone strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an important leader of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, allied with Tehran and supported by Baghdad. Thus, these groups have their own reasons for striking America’s bases and embassy. There is presumably some level of pain sufficient to dissuade them from acting, but that will likely yield significant friction with Iraq, which would not sacrifice its sovereignty for Washington.

Anyway, why work so hard to justify another war? Naturally, the Biden administration claims to be engaged in “self-defense.” That is, however, nonsense for Syria. The United States has neither legal justification to occupy Syrian territory nor policy justification to make the Syrian civil war a permanent commitment and face harassment from and attacks by Iranian, Russian, and Syrian forces.

Syria is a wreck economically, politically, and militarily and threatens no one. The Islamic State has been defeated. Nor does the United States have an obligation to stay, apparently forever, to protect Syrian Kurds. Washington aided them, not the other way around, against ISIS. Although the Assad regime is awful, three administrations have failed to drive President Bashar al-Assad from power, and America’s Mideast allies again are engaging Damascus. Washington’s policy, supported by successive administrations and Congresses, to starve the Syrian people in a futile effort to punish their government is both morally odious and practically idiotic.

American military personnel also should come home from Iraq, where they serve no clear or vital purpose. That nation’s problems are many, but the government has moved significantly beyond the place it was a decade ago when ISIS—which ultimately grew out of the George W. Bush administration’s reckless and incompetent invasion and occupation—metastasized into a terror state. Today, Baghdad can confront such threats, especially with the aid of its neighbors. The U.S. garrison offers a convenient target and pressure point for Iran and could drag Washington into a larger conflict. What if an American military response was desperately needed in an emergency? The Pentagon maintains a plethora of bases with more than 45,000 personnel elsewhere around the region. The latter number recently increased and is far more than justified.

U.S. security is not served by promiscuous intervention and endless war. Instead, America is best served by avoiding involvement in conflicts of little importance to the United States. American military personnel also are suffering and for no reason. In November, Austin solemnly proclaimed: “These attacks against our people must stop, you know?” The attacks have not. It is time to bring our people home.

About the Author

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. He is a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan and the author of several books, including Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.