Updated Jan 28, 2024 - Politics & Policy

GOP hawks press Biden to target Iran directly over soldiers' deaths

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Photo: Julia Nikhinson/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

President Biden is facing calls from congressional hawks to escalate attacks on Iran-linked targets, including within Iran itself, in response to the deaths of three U.S. service members in a drone attack in Jordan.

Why it matters: Heeding those calls would risk significantly expanding and drawing the U.S. further into an already growing regional conflict that has sprung up as a result of the Israel-Hamas war.

Driving the news: "Last night, three U.S. service members were killed —and many wounded — during an unmanned aerial drone attack on our forces stationed in northeast Jordan near the Syria border," Biden said in a statement on Sunday morning.

  • Biden said the U.S. is "still gathering the facts of this attack," but "we know it was carried out by radical Iran-backed militant groups operating in Syria and Iraq."
  • According to U.S. central command, 25 service members were wounded in the attack.

What they're saying: Senate Minority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called for "serious, crippling costs" to Iran, "not only on front-line terrorist proxies, but on their Iranian sponsors who wear American blood as a badge of honor."

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), said in a statement the attacks the U.S. has carried out on Iranian proxies outside Iran "will not deter Iranian aggression," calling to "strike targets of significance inside Iran."
  • "The only answer to these attacks must be devastating military retaliation against Iran's terrorist forces, both in Iran and across the Middle East," said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). "Anything less will confirm Joe Biden as a coward unworthy of being commander-in-chief."
  • Sen. John Cornyn, in a post on the social media site X, said: "Target Tehran,” later specifying that he wants the U.S. to strike Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. and its Quds Force branch.

The backdrop: The U.S. has been conducting strikes against Iranian-backed militias in Yemen and Iraq in response to attacks on U.S. forces over American support for Israel.

  • Biden has faced rebukes from more dovish lawmakers on the ideological flanks of both parties for not seeking prior congressional authorization for the strikes, but hawks have also criticized them as insufficient.
  • McConnell, in a Senate floor speech on Thursday, accused Biden of playing "whack-a-mole against warehouses and launch sites," adding, "Until Iran feels that its own interests and its own IRGC officers across the region are threatened, attacks on U.S. forces will continue."

What we're hearing: "The head of the snake is Iran," Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and former Air Force brigadier general, told Axios.

  • Bacon noted that the administration "keeps conducting strikes on the proxy forces that are armed and often directed by Iran," but "Iran could care a less if we attack the proxy forces."
  • "We should find smart Iranian targets that are low risk of our aircraft getting shot down and teach Iran a lesson," he said.

The big picture: Biden would likely face an outcry from many members of his own party if he retaliated to the degree some Republicans are advocating for.

  • Lawmakers across the political spectrum, and progressives in particular, have been increasingly critical of the administration's broad interpretation of executive war powers in recent weeks.
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