When three US military members were killed by a militia group sponsored by Iran on January 28, President Biden promised to hold those responsible “at a time and in a manner of our choosing.” Meanwhile, the White House dithers. Time goes by. There is no response by the US military against the country responsible – the number one sponsor of global terror.
Iran Winning the Messaging Race
When retaliation for egregious acts by a perpetrator that is known takes too long, time has an opportunity to work on the narrative. Iran has time to put its propaganda on the street, and Biden is playing catchup. The developing narrative has already begun. “Iran and its proxies are advancing an information operation to obfuscate the origin of the January 28 attack that killed three US service members in Jordan,” observes the Institute for the Study of War. “Statements from Kataib Hezbollah before the attack and Iraqi militia actions afterward suggest that the attack came from Iraq.” The idea is to put distance between the theme that Iran was behind the deadly attack. That way, there is the perception of Tehran’s innocence, where guilt is the reality.
In the meantime, anticipate explanations from the Pentagon that the national security leadership is taking time to make absolutely sure it is holding the right group accountable. But by then, whatever the Biden national security team finally decides to do will have lost the impact of rapid decisiveness. This decision-making effort is not like the foolhardy US unmanned aerial vehicle attack on the hapless civilian and his family in Kabul during the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal.
After a suicide terrorist killed 13 US troops at the Kabul airport, Biden – in his haste to show decisiveness, not knowing who was at fault, and with limited information – went after an innocent civilian. It was a guess. And the Biden team guessed wrong. This time, there is no guesswork about it. Iran is the culprit, and the longer it takes the president to take action, the less impact the decision will have.
As President Biden was boarding Marine One, recently, he answered a shouted question from the press. The chief executive said he had decided on how to respond to the attack on US forces stationed at the Tower 22 outpost. But what has he decided?
Procrastination Serves the Enemy
Holding the response and dithering over how strong it should be after the Islamic Resistance in Iraq owned up to the deadly attack is not helpful, and Iran has had plenty of time to formulate its own answer to any US retaliation. “The Islamic Republic would decisively respond to any attack on the country, its interests and nationals under any pretexts,” Amir Saeid Iravani, Iran’s ambassador to the UN, told Iranian reporters. If Biden chooses an appropriate retaliatory strike, it could make Iran’s threats moot if Tehran is sufficiently cowed.
There are a variety of options open to the US. According to Voice of America correspondent Patsy Widakuswara, John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesman, told reporters traveling with the president on Air Force One: “The president will do what he has to do to protect our troops and our facilities and to look after our national security … interests in the region.” But that standard administration boilerplate is demonstrably false. The president did not protect our troops. That’s why Kirby is having this conversation with the press. Widakuswara quoted Kirby saying President Biden has ordered a “tiered approach” with “potentially multiple actions.”
What is that? It’s so much Pentagon-speak. The tiered approach smacks of incrementalism, which has proven ineffective time and time again. As the US incrementally increases the magnitude of its “potentially multiple actions,” the enemy incrementally adjusts and becomes more resilient. History has shown that a swift, devastating attack can demonstrate American military power. When, in May 1988, then President Ronald Reagan wanted to send a message to Iran’s Ayatollah, he dispatched US forces and sank half the Iranian navy. Iran went quiet for many years – no complicated, “tiered approach” with “potentially multiple actions” required.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.