On January 28th, Iranian proxies killed three American soldiers and injured 22 others in a drone attack on an American base in northeastern Jordan, near the Syrian border. These are the first American lives lost so far in the broader Middle Eastern flare-up since October 7th. For comment on an appropriate American response, Providence reached out to Rebeccah Heinrichs, Robert Nicholson, and Gabriel Scheinmann.
We honor the three American service members: Sergeant William Jerome Rivers, Specialist Kennedy Ladon Sanders, and Specialist Breonna Alexsondria Moffett who volunteered to serve this country and paid the ultimate price in Jordan. Iran is ultimately to blame for their deaths and a strong U.S. military response against the Iran regime is required.
Sadly, despite warnings issued by many in the foreign policy community, the Biden administration has so far failed to effectively respond to Iran’s ever more grievous provocations. Permitting Iran-backed proxy attacks against US forces without a meaningful response, such as seriously degrading their ability to attack US forces, was always going to inevitably lead to American deaths.
There is a pattern of bad decision-making leading up to the Iranian-backed terrorists attacking US forces in Jordan on Sunday, and in the August 2021 terrorist attack at Abbey Gate in Afghanistan that took the lives of 13 American service members. In both cases, US forces were unacceptably vulnerable, and the Biden administration refused to adapt its strategy to maximize troop safety and make the enemy fear the potential US response if the enemy attacked.
When asked about possible responses to Tehran-backed terror against US forces, Biden officials have frequently responded that the administration does not want a wider war in the region as justification for their weak and infrequent retaliatory responses. But the administration’s tepid reactions are not persuading Iran to arrest its aggression. Following Sunday’s attack, Secretary Blinken described this moment as the most dangerous time in the Middle East since the 1970s. There have been other dangerous inflection points over the last half century; regardless, his statement is an indictment of the Biden policies he defends.
The killing of 3 US servicemembers in Jordan is just the latest reason to give the Iranian regime a smack in the mouth. This attack comes after hundreds of provocations by Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis, and Iran’s proxies in Iraq and Syria. All of these provocations originate in Tehran and are designed to inflict maximum damage on the US, Israel, and our Arab allies while extending the Iranian empire across the region. Meanwhile, the growing assault on international shipping in the Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and Persian Gulf, has brought this war – an ideological, theological, and even eschatological war – to the whole world.
Many pundits advise caution, and I generally agree: The US should not be in a rush to launch a war against Iran. Yet while we didn’t throw the first punch, the first punch has been thrown – and the second and the third – and it’s time to punch back. As Eliot Cohen has argued in The Atlantic, “The weakness of Iran is its fear of direct conflict with the United States.” This means, paradoxically, that a greater show of force from the US will mitigate regional conflict, not inflame it. The ayatollahs will push as far as we let them, and no further.
Knowing that our allies are behind us, we should be bold in confronting Tehran. As it happens, large portions of the Iranian people will cheer us on. But our response shouldn’t be all-out war; that’s not how this game is played. Taking a page from the Israelis’ book, we need to develop a better strategy of tactical escalation through targeted (and creative) strikes, answering Iranian strikes tit for tat with overwhelming force that shows unshakeable resolve. The message to Iran: “Here and no further.” The result will be the continued weakening of a regime already on the ropes.
Of course, part of the US response must include continued support for Israel as it defends its citizens from Iran’s murderous proxies in Gaza and Lebanon. Playing coy, or letting daylight come between Washington and Jerusalem for fear of international pressure, will only embolden our enemies and lead to more loss of life.
Until we see this as a civilizational fight, and a just cause, America will continue to flounder before a state far more fragile than ours.
The United States is now in a regional war with Iran which we are not only not winning, but also refusing to admit we are even fighting. Even as our enemies openly blare their intentions—a reminder that the Houthi slogan literally includes “death to America”—the Biden Administration’s primo policy priority has been to restore the world of October 6th, 2023. Other than its broad, yet waning, constraining, and unspecific support of Israel’s campaign in Gaza, the White House has clung to its October 6th policies of de-escalating with Iran, browbeating Israel into withdrawing from Judea and Samaria, and pulling back from the region. A plan for victory, this is not.
What would even beginning to recognize this war mean in practice? First, the Biden Administration needs to rebalance the asymmetry in the war. Iranian proxies have launched several hundred attacks on U.S. forces, but the U.S. impedes its own allies from striking Iranian targets. While the Israelis have somewhat ignored this in Syria, the U.S. should change its policy and support Ukrainian strikes, including on Iranian drone and missile supply chains, in Russia. Second, Operation Prosperity Guardian, the 20-nation coalition the Administration has cobbled together to restore safe maritime passage in the Red Sea, should directly target any Iranian assets that are supporting the Houthis’ war. The soldiers in Jordan were not the first casualties in the Iranian-led war; two Navy Seals were killed while trying to interdict Iranian weapons reaching the Houthis. The Iranian navy has also hijacked several tankers, which the coalition should liberate. Finally, the Biden Administration should make clear that, while it would prefer Hezbollah withdraw from the Israeli border and disarm—both UNSCR demands—if war should come, the US would unequivocally back Israel’s efforts.