A Proportional Response
It’s what we do. I mean this is what we do.
WaPo (“U.S. launches retaliatory strikes after deadly attack on Jordan base“):
U.S. forces launched a broad attack against Iran’s powerful military wing and affiliated militias in Iraq and Syria on Friday, delivering a blow to armed groups that Washington has blamed for killing American troops in Jordan and a surge of violence across the Middle East.
U.S. Central Command said that American forces, using B-1 bombers flown from the United States and other aircraft, hit more than 85 targets affiliated with the Quds Force, a unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC), and local militias that it supports. Among the locations hit at four sites in Syria and three sites in Iraq were command and control posts, intelligence centers and drone storage facilities, officials said.
The operation marked the opening of what officials say will be a multiday campaign aimed at various targets close to Iran, which the Biden administration has blamed for the spiraling bloodshed that has erupted since the start of Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip, including a drone attack Sunday that killed three U.S. service members and injured dozens more at a remote outpost in Jordan.
“Our response began today. It will continue at times and places of our choosing,” President Biden, who oversaw the repatriation of the slain soldiers’ remains earlier on Friday, said in a statement. “Let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: If you harm an American, we will respond.”
The moment marks an intensification in Washington’s long-running standoff with Tehran, which Biden administration has labeled responsible for scores of recent attacks in Iraq and Syria — where U.S. troops remain as part of a mission to prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State — and in Yemen, where Houthi militants have fired on ships off the Arabian peninsula.
The strikes, which began at 4 p.m. Washington time on Friday, are an attempt to inflict greater damage on Iran and its proxies than they suffered in previous retaliatory actions carried out by U.S. forces in recent months, which thus far have failed to end the violence.
The Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group that includes several militias affiliated with Iran, claimed responsibility for the attack on Tower 22, the American base close to Jordan’s shared border with Iraq and Syria. The slain troops, two women and a man, were part of an Army Reserve unit based in Georgia.
On Friday, Syria’s state-run media reported that “U.S. aggression” resulted in fatalities and injuries in multiple sites in desert areas. State TV said that a strike on a power station resulted in a partial power disruption in Syria’s Deir al-Zour governate.
A provincial official from western Iraq said that multiple houses used by militiamen as weapons depots in al-Qaim, a city along the border with Syria, were “entirely destroyed” by airstrikes on Friday. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive situation, reported at least two civilian deaths in al-Qaim.
While U.S. officials stressed that they hoped to avoid a wider conflict in planning their response, the action had the effect of stoking already-heightened tensions with at least one important American partner.
Yahya Rasool, an Iraqi military spokesman, described the U.S. strikes on al-Qaim and other border areas as a violation of his country’s sovereignty, which he said would “undermine the efforts of the Iraqi government, and pose a threat that could lead Iraq and the region to dire consequences.
We’ve been discussing the seeming inevitability of the fallout over Gaza leading to a wider war in the Middle East for weeks now. When Iranian proxies killed three American soldiers, an American military response was not only predictable but predicted. Indeed, we held a press conference warning that it was coming before launching.
I’m once again reminded of one of my favorite plotlines from the television show The West Wing, Season 1, Episode 3’s “A Proportional Response.”
This response is woefully unsatisfying. It doesn’t exact much vengeance for the killing of three Americans, nor even do much to discourage more such killing. It won’t do much to hamper the ability of Iranian proxies to harm American interests even in the short term. It almost certainly won’t change Iranian decision-making going forward because, as the fictional President Bartlett rightly notes, an American response of this sort was already factored in as a cost of doing business.
And, yet, as the fictional Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Fitzwallace correctly responds, this is all there is. A satisfying response would kill a lot of innocent people and almost certainly escalate the situation well beyond where either the United States or Iran wants.
So the tiresome game of tit for tat continues.