Republican lawmakers in the United States have amplified their calls for President Joe Biden to take decisive action against Iran, after a drone attack killed three American soldiers along the Jordanian-Syrian border.
But foreign policy experts and advocates fear political pressure could bring the United States down. more and more dangerous path towards direct confrontation with Iran.
“I think it’s really scary to see how far the rhetoric has gone and what that means for the decisions that policymakers will make,” said Jamal Abdi, president of the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC).
“It really is like the frog is boiled in water,” he said, referring to the allegory of an amphibian unaware that it is cooked in slowly warming water.
For its part, Biden promised The United States “will hold all those responsible to account when and how we choose.” On Tuesday, he told reporters he had decided how to proceed, without providing further information.
Speaking to reporters Monday, White House National Security spokesman John Kirby said the United States was not seeking a direct confrontation with Iran. He also did not directly link Iran to the attack.
Nonetheless, Kirby said the United States would respond appropriately to the “Iran-backed group” responsible for the deaths.
Defense Ministry spokeswoman Sabrina Singh told reporters that the attack “bears the fingerprints” of the Iran-aligned Kataib Hezbollah group, but that the agency’s assessment remains in progress.
“We are not looking for a war with Iran. We are not seeking to widen this conflict,” Singh said. “We have said and we will continue to emphasize the fact that Iran funds and equips these groups and provides them with the capabilities that they use to attack our military, whether in Iraq, Syria or Jordan. »
On Tuesday, Kataib Hezbollah issued a statement saying it had suspended its attacks against the United States.
Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder also reiterated the administration’s position Tuesday, saying the United States has repeatedly “called on Iranian proxy groups to cease their attacks.” This is not the case, so we will respond when and how we choose.
“Devastating military retaliation”
US military bases have faced more than 160 attacks since Israel’s war in Gaza began on October 7, but Sunday’s drone attack marked the first time U.S. personnel were killed.
This fact has caused hawkish members of the Republican Party to redouble their efforts, as they call for more direct military action against Iran.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, for example, called on the Biden administration to “strike key targets in Iran, not only in retaliation for the deaths of our forces, but also as a deterrent against future aggression.”
Senator Tom Cotton also called for “devastating military retaliation against Iranian terrorist forces, both in Iran and across the Middle East.”
Other right-wing figures also weighed in, including Roger Wicker, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, who called for “direct strikes against Iranian targets and their leaders.”
Stephen Miles, president of Win Without War, a group that advocates for a progressive U.S. foreign policy, described the reaction as the equivalent of a knee-jerk reaction.
He joked that some Republicans call for bombing Iran when they “think they’ve lost their keys.”
He sees the latest Republican calls as an addition to an already dangerous situation. The Biden administration, he explained, is already pursuing a strategy of retaliation against groups that receive support from Iran in Iraq and Syria, as well as against the Houthis in Yemen.
This, in turn, could turn tensions over the Gaza conflict into a regional war.
“I think a lot of times people think of these situations as big ‘prepared’ wars where the United States makes the decision to intervene, and we preposition all these troops and all these assets and go to war,” said Miles. Al Jazeera.
“The more likely path… is that these types of retaliatory strikes have the potential to extend well beyond that. »
“It doesn’t matter whether people in Washington or Tehran don’t want a broader regional war,” he added. “These things can take on a life of their own.”
Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute, a think tank, said Republicans calling for direct retaliation against Iran fall into two camps: Some “really want war,” while others s are simply attacking Biden’s perceived vulnerability in an election year. .
For the latter camp, a hawkish approach may pay off, whether Biden acts or not.
“They can push Biden to take military action, which they understand is not going to work well,” he said. “Or Biden won’t hit Iran, and then they’ll attack it because it’s weak. So they see it as a win-win situation from a political point of view.”
Upcoming presidential election
The deaths of US troops have already put Biden’s Iran policy at the forefront of the 2024 presidential race.
Republican presidential front-runner and former President Donald Trump rose to the occasion, saying the attack “would never have happened” if he had been in the White House. He described his approach as “peace through strength.”
But critics have pointed out that the Trump administration decision to murder Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Iraq on January 3, 2020 brought the two countries to the brink of war. Since then, US bases in the Middle East have been regularly targeted, sometimes in explicit retaliation for the assassination.
Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley also called for “surgical strikes” against Iranian assets and officials outside Iran.
“In an election year, this message is being put out that Trump has been very tough on Iran, and that has been beneficial, and Biden has been weak,” said Abdi, of the Iranian American National Council, whose The group has long advocated for diplomatic solutions to the problem. tense relations between the United States and Iran.
Abdi added that some Republicans have already sought to connect the attack to Biden’s broader Iran policy, which largely resembles Trump’s, despite promises to take a more diplomatic approach.
But there could be a “political imperative” for Biden to “take retaliatory measures that would be considered stronger than what the United States has done so far,” according to Brian Finucane, senior U.S. adviser at Crisis Group , a think tank that seeks to prevent and resolve conflicts.
“The focus seems to be on revenge for the American soldiers killed yesterday,” he said.
“It is remarkable that the loudest voices in Congress are not those calling for restraint or questioning the legal authority of the United States to engage in these conflicts with Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria, without saying anything about the conflict with the Houthis. »
For his part, Parsi of the Quincy Institute called Biden’s predicament — and the risks of further escalation — “predictable.”
Biden’s continued support for Israel and refusal to call for a ceasefire in Gaza has stoked tensions in the Middle East and created grounds for those seeking direct confrontation with Iran, he said.
“Biden should have been more careful from the start,” Parsi said. “We would not have had this escalation that we are experiencing today if there had been a ceasefire much earlier.”