Joe Biden and his press chief have been accused of hypocrisy after old tweets slamming the Trump administration’s Middle East air strikes resurfaced following last night’s bombing raid on Syria.
The US dropped seven 500-pound precision-guided bombs in a Biden-directed bombardment that reportedly killed 22 Iran-backed militants smuggling weapons at a border crossing with Iraq.
That ferocity has drawn accusations of double standards because Biden previously referred to Donald Trump as ‘erratic’ and ‘impulsive’ for threatening to bomb Iran, while press secretary Jen Psaki questioned the legality of attacking Syria.
Four years ago, Psaki tweeted her dismay at Trump-sanctioned air strikes on the very same country which her boss approved a bombing raid on last night.
‘What is the legal authority for strikes? Assad is a brutal dictator. But Syria is a sovereign country,’ Psaki wrote in April, 2017.
Joe Biden clutches his face mask as he appears at a press conference on Wednesday. The president ordered strikes on the Syria/Iraq border last night despite previous tweets criticizing Trump’s ‘erratic’ foreign policy in the Middle East
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki (pictured yesterday) tweeted four years ago to attack the legality of Trump’s strikes on Syria, saying: ‘Assad is a brutal dictator. But Syria is a sovereign country.’
Hard-left Democrat Ilhar Omar was among those to draw attention to the old tweet
Joe Biden called Trump ‘erratic’ and ‘impulsive’ on June 22, 2019, after it was reported that Trump had considered air strikes on Iran following the downing of a US drone by Tehran over the Strait of Hormuz
Hard-left Democrat Ilhan Omar was among those to draw attention to the old tweet, responding with: ‘Great question.’
Senator Rand Paul said: ‘I condemn meddling in Syria’s civil war. I also condemn attacking a sovereign nation without authority. What authority does @POTUS have to strike Syria? Perhaps someone should ask his @PressSec today?’
At the time of Psaki’s statement, Trump ordered bombing runs on a Syrian airbase in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack President Bashr Al-Assad carried out on his own people.
Toxic gas, believed to have included the extremely deadly sarin compound, killed at least 89 civilians and injured more than 500.
It was one of the deadliest chemical weapons attacks in the Syrian civil war and the images of children stricken by the gas sickened the world.
Trump’s response was tough, launching a barrage of 59 cruise missiles from the Mediterranean, while calling Assad ‘a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it.’
He also forcefully confronted Iran and Russia for aligning themselves with ‘barbarism and brutality’ and said the US and its allies in the strike, France and Britain, are prepared ‘to sustain this response’ until Assad stops using chemical weapons.
NATO and the European Union were supportive of the strike, as were most of the US media, although some of Trump’s right-wing supporters said it was a reversal of his campaign pledge to avoid foreign intervention.
A condemnatory tweet from Biden also resurfaced last night, in which he ripped into Trump’s military action towards Iran in June, 2019, which he called ‘erratic’ and ‘impulsive.’
Biden’s tweet came the day after it emerged that President Trump had mulled a massive bombing of Iran after Tehran downed a US drone over Strait of Hormuz.
‘Trump’s erratic, impulsive actions are the last thing we need as Commander-in-Chief. No president should order a military strike without fully understanding the consequences,’ Biden wrote.
‘We don’t need another war in the Middle East, but Trump’s actions toward Iran only make that more likely.’
But, in fact, Trump had called off those strikes – against all advice from the top brass – despite his famous words that he was ‘cocked and loaded’ to unleash hell on Iran.
‘We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights (sic) when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it,’ he said in tweets, ‘not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.’
At the White House a senior administration official said that Trump had overruled all of his advisers and Pentagon chiefs when he called off the strikes.
Those advisors included Iran hawk John Bolton, Trump’s national security advisor; Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State who had been seen as more doveish than Bolton; and CIA director Gina Haspel.
Trump, pictured with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, National security adviser John Bolton, center, and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, on June 2019. Trump later revealed the US had been ‘cocked and loaded’ to strike Iran before pulling out of retaliatory strikes over the downing of a US drone over the Strait of Hormuz
In June 2019, Biden criticised Trump’s foreign policy as ‘erratic’ and ‘impulsive’ after the president revealed that he had been ‘cocked and loaded’ to bomb Iran.
Another tweet by Biden from October 2019 reappeared in which he once again referred to then-President Trump as ‘erratic’ and ‘impulsive’ over the decision to pull troops out of Syria where they had been supporting Kurdish allies in the fight against ISIS.
A Turkish invasion was launched against Kurdish factions and there were accusations of war crimes, including summary executions. The ensuing conflict would lead to more than 300,000 being displaced.
While vying for the Democratic nomination, Biden told a crowd in Iowa: ‘The events of the past week … have had devastating clarity of just how dangerous this president is.’
He claimed the Trump administration had ‘abandoned’ Kurdish allies in the region and created a vacuum for ISIS to regain lost territory.
Trump was widely criticized at the time, including by Republican Senators like Lindsey Graham, but he defended the decision, saying he didn’t want boots on the ground so far from home.
‘The United States was supposed to be in Syria for 30 days, that was many years ago,’ Trump said. ‘We stayed and got deeper and deeper into battle with no aim in sight. When I arrived in Washington, ISIS was running rampant in the area.’
The US staked its foreign policy intentions once again last night, with a Biden-ordered bombardment in eastern Syria on militants trying to ship arms through Iraq.
The airstrike was the first military action undertaken by the Biden administration, after repeated tensions between Iran and the Trump White House over the previous four years which reached a peak following Qassem Soleimani’s killing in early 2020.
The strike also appeared to be the first retaliatory move following rocket attacks against US targets in Iran that injured American troops and killed a contractor.
In announcing the strikes, John Kirby, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, said: ‘This proportionate military response was conducted together with diplomatic measures, including consultation with coalition partners.’
‘The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel. At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to deescalate the overall situation in eastern Syria and Iraq.’
The US dropped seven 500-pound JDAMs (file image) on seven targets on a crossing used by the militia groups to move weapons across the border
Authorities said the airstrike targeted structures belonging to two Iranian-backed militias in Al Bukamal (depicted)
Pentagon officials said they offered up several larger groups of targets but Biden approved the smallest option.
Pro-Iran attacks against the US in Iraq
Western military and diplomatic sites in Iraq have been targeted by dozens of rockets and roadside bombs since late 2019, with both foreign and Iraqi personnel killed.
In December 2019, a US contractor was killed in a rocket attack on a base in Kirkuk province, prompting the US to respond with air strikes against Kataeb Hezbollah.
Furious pro-Iranian militia men stormed the US embassy in Baghdad following the strikes on Kataeb Hezbollah.
Kataeb Hezbollah is an Iran-sponsored Shia Muslim faction which is part of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).
The PMF was assembled by Iraq to help combat Islamic State but, since defeating the radicals, the PMF has been unwilling to bend to the government in Baghdad.
Just days after the storming of the US embassy, top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani was killed in a US rocket strike on January 3.
His motorcade was obliterated by a US Reaper drone after he arrived from either Syria or Iraq.
Several PMF commanders were also killed in the strike.
Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s foreign policy and Washington said his travel throughout the Middle East, especially into Iraq and Syria, was inextricably linked to Tehran’s anti-American designs.
Following the strike, rocket attacks were carried out by pro-Iranian militia on al-Asad, a coalition airbase in the west of Iraq.
In March 2020, another rocket attack killed two Americans – a soldier and a contractor – and a British soldier.
In October, the US threatened to close its embassy in Baghdad unless the attacks stopped.
The Iraqi government facilitated an indefinite truce with hardline groups and the fire had come to a near halt.
But there have been violations, the most recent of which had been a spray of rockets targeting the US embassy on December 20.
Retaliatory US military strikes have occurred a number of times in the past few years.
The rocket attacks against US positions in Iraq were carried out as Washington and Tehran are looking for a way to return to the 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by former president Donald Trump.
Biden administration officials condemned the February 15 rocket attack near the city of Irbil in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish-run region, but as recently as this week officials indicated they had not determined for certain who carried it out.
Officials have noted that in the past, Iranian-backed Shiite militia groups have been responsible for numerous rocket attacks that targeted US personnel or facilities in Iraq.
Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, had said Tuesday that Iraq is in charge of investigating the February 15 attack.
‘Right now, we’re not able to give you a certain attribution as to who was behind these attacks, what groups, and I’m not going to get into the tactical details of every bit of weaponry used here,’ Kirby said.
‘Let’s let the investigations complete and conclude, and then when we have more to say, we will.’
A little-known Shiite militant group calling itself Saraya Awliya al-Dam, Arabic for Guardians of Blood Brigade, claimed responsibility for the February 15 attack.
A week later, a rocket attack in Baghdad’s Green Zone appeared to target the US Embassy compound, but no one was hurt.
Iran this week said it has no links to the Guardians of Blood Brigade.
‘I’m confident in the target that we went after, we know what we hit,’ Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters flying with him from California to Washington.
Speaking shortly after the airstrikes, he added: ‘We’re confident that that target was being used by the same Shia militants that conducted the strikes,’ he said referring to the February 15 rocket attack in northern Iraq that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a US service member and other coalition personnel.
Austin said he recommended the action to Biden.
‘We said a number of times that we will respond on our timeline,’ Austin said. ‘We wanted to be sure of the connectivity and we wanted to be sure that we had the right targets.’
The frequency of attacks by Shiite militia groups against US targets in Iraq diminished late last year ahead of Biden’s inauguration, though now Iran is pressing America to return to Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal.
Video shows red hot shrapnel and smoke filling the air after a rocket landed in the middle of a street in Erbil on February 15. As well as the US contractors wounded and the foreign contractor killed, five Iraqi civilians were wounded in the attack
The US under the previous Trump administration blamed Iran-backed groups for carrying out the attacks.
Tensions soared after a Washington-directed drone strike that killed top Iranian Gen Qassem Soleimani and powerful Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis last year.
Trump had said the death of a US contractor would be a red line and provoke US escalation in Iraq.
The December 2019 killing of a US civilian contractor in a rocket attack in Kirkuk sparked a tit-for-tat fight on Iraqi soil that brought the country to the brink of a proxy war.
US forces have been significantly reduced in Iraq to 2,500 personnel and no longer partake in combat missions with Iraqi forces in ongoing operations against the Islamic State group.
ESCALATING TENSIONS BETWEEN THE US AND IRAN
May 2018: Trump withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal which was drawn up in 2015 under President Obama.
August 2018: The Trump Administration imposes first round of sanctions, prohibit trade with a number of business sectors
November 2018: The Trump Administrations imposes a second round of sanctions which target oil and banking industries. The sanctions have a crippling effect on the Iranian economy
April 2019: Trump designates one arm of the Iranian military as a ‘terrorist group’ – an inflammatory move that prompts the Iran to hit back and call the US a ‘state sponsor of terrorism’
Iraqi security forces deploy during the second day of protests at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, in December 2019
Under siege: US soldiers keep watch on the US embassy in Baghdad from an observation post in December 2019
May 2019: Four tankers – including two belonging to US ally Saudi Arabia – are struck and damaged in the Gulf of Oman. The US blames Iran for the attack
May 2019: A rocket lands near the US embassy in Baghdad, prompting Trump to tweet ‘If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!’
June 2019: Iran shoots down a US surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz. An enraged Trump who considers launching airstrikes in retaliation
July 2019: Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said that if any more American drones violated Iranian airspace ‘then they will receive the same response’ as the one that was blasted out of the sky the previous month
July 2019: Additional troops and fighter jets are put in place in the Middle East ‘to defend American forces and interests’ amid escalating tension
September 2019: Iran is blamed for an attack on two Saudi oil fields responsible for five percent of the global oil supply – or about 5.7 million barrels per day. Secretary of State Pompeo described the attack as ‘an act of war’
September 2019: US national security officials reportedly presented President Trump with a ‘menu’ of options that include military strikes and cyber attacks
November 2019: Rocket attacks increase on Iraqi military bases which are hosting American service personnel. Intelligence officials believe Hezbollah is behind the attacks
December 2019: Thousands of pro-Iranian militia men storm the US embassy in Baghdad.
January 2020: Trump orders a Reaper Drone strike which obliterates top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani outside the airport in Baghdad.
Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Lieutenant general and commander of the Quds Force Qassem Soleimani was slaughtered in a US Reaper drone strike in January 2020
Iran vows revenge for the killing and rockets strikes are launched by pro-Iranian factions against US bases in Iraq.
Two British warships are ordered to escort UK-flagged ships through the Strait of Hormuz.
March 2020: Another rocket strike in Iraq kills two Americans – a soldier and a contractor – and a British soldier.
April 2020: Revolutionary Guards chief Hossein Salami says he has ordered Tehran’s naval forces to destroy any US warships that threaten the ‘security’ of Iranian vessels, after Trump said he had told the US Navy to fire on any Iranian ships that harass it at sea.
October 2020: US threatened to close its embassy in Baghdad unless the attacks stopped.
December 2020: Spray of rockets are launched at the US embassy. Trump vows that if one American is killed he will launch a massive bombing campaign.
January 2021: Iran seizes a South Korean-flagged tanker in the Gulf, the first such seizure in more than a year.
It comes amid Iranian pressure on Seoul to release $7billion in Iranian oil funds that are frozen because of US sanctions.