The New Republic - February 26, 2021

“Biden deprioritizes the Middle East,” a Politico headline declared. The president, wrote Natasha Bertrand and Lara Seligman, “is tired of dealing with the Middle East—and, barely a month into his tenure, the region has noticed.”

That was four days ago. On Thursday, in a rite of passage for any American commander in chief, the United States launched an airstrike in eastern Syria that reportedly killed 22 members of an Iranian-sponsored militia that operates in Iraq. The strike was supposedly “defensive”: retaliation for a rocket attack two weeks earlier against an airport in Erbil, Iraq, which killed a Filipino contractor working for the U.S.-led coalition and injured six others.

Making this situation more complex, U.S. forces are training Iraq’s formal military and counterterrorism units, who fight alongside the very militias the U.S. just bombed. The pretzel logic at work is emblematic of the decades-long quagmire the U.S. has created in the Middle East: We can’t defend one part of our coalition except by bombing another (unacknowledged) portion of it. And with NATO deploying thousands

more soldiers to Iraq, and talk of the U.S. altering an agreement with the Taliban to withdraw from Afghanistan by May 1, the American military footprint in the greater Middle East shows no signs of decreasing—just as Biden promised on the campaign trail.

... Similarly, few seem to care that this strike was a violation of Syrian sovereignty, part and parcel with the ongoing U.S. presence at Al-Tanf, a military base in Syria near the Iraqi border. The airstrikes were ostensibly authorized by the 20-year-old, post-9/11

Authorization for the Use of Military Force

, a document that’s become so elastic as to be practically meaningless. To understand what a grim farce this has become, consider a string of tweets by Jen Psaki, Biden’s current spokesperson, less than four years ago. “What is the legal authority for strikes?” she tweeted after Trump fired missiles on Syrian forces. “Assad is a brutal dictator. But Syria is a sovereign country.” ...
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