Biden Justifies U.S. Strike on Syria to His Democratic Critics

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President Joe Biden provided an official explanation of the airstrike that targeted Iranian-backed fighters in eastern Syria, saying he was using his authority to deter attacks on U.S. and allied personnel in Iraq.

Biden’s letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Patrick Leahy, president pro tempore of the Senate, follows criticism by some Democrats of the circumstances of his first overt use of military force, about five weeks after taking office. Like a long line of his predecessors, Biden said he was informing Congress “consistent with” the War Powers Act, without acknowledging that he was required to do so.

The president said he “directed this military action to protect and defend our personnel and our partners against these attacks and future such attacks” under his constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign policy and as commander in chief, according to the letter, which was released by the White House on Saturday.

“Those non-state militia groups were involved in recent attacks against United States and Coalition personnel in Iraq,” including a Feb. 15 attack in Erbil that wounded a U.S. service member and four U.S. contractors and killed a Filipino contractor, Biden wrote to Pelosi and Leahy.

Some Democrats had called out Biden, saying he didn’t inform Congress in advance.

Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, who’s long argued that presidents need to seek approval from lawmakers for most military operations, said on Friday that Americans should hear the administration’s reasoning for the strikes “and its legal justification for acting without coming to Congress.”

Representative Ro Khanna of California said there’s no justification for a president to order a strike that isn’t in self-defense without congressional authorization.

In his letter, Biden said he was acting under the U.S.’s inherent right to self-defense reflected in the United Nations charter.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Defense Department briefed congressional leaders before the strikes.

Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement Friday that the “strikes were the correct, proportionate response to protect American lives, and I look forward to more information on the administration’s response to Iran’s aggression.” Other Republicans echoed his approval.

The U.S. destroyed nine facilities and damaged two others in the attack, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Friday. At least 22 Iraqi militants allied with Iran were killed and three ammunition trucks were destroyed in the attack, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which gathers information from activists in Syria.

After a decade of civil war, Syria’s military is not in a strong position to respond directly to a U.S. attack. The country faced two attacks by the U.S. military during former President Donald Trump’s term, both over President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons in the conflict.

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