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Biden’s Middle East Policy “Leading Us into a War Whose Aims We Have Not Defined”

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President Biden says he holds Iran responsible for the drone killing of three U.S. soldiers at a base in Jordan and that he has decided on a U.S. response. Tehran has denied any involvement in the attack and threatened to “decisively respond” to any U.S. retaliation. Responsibility for the strike was claimed by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a term used to describe a loose coalition of militias that oppose U.S. support for Israel’s assault on Gaza. “This is leading us into a war whose aims we have not defined, whose exit we cannot envision,” says Trita Parsi, the executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, who warns that “continued warfare in Gaza by the Israelis is a direct threat to U.S. national interests.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Iran has threatened to, quote, “decisively respond” to any U.S. attack on Iran following President Joe Biden’s linking of Tehran to the drone attack on Sunday that killed three U.S. soldiers and wounded 40 at a military base in Jordan. President Biden announced Tuesday he had decided how to respond to the drone attack, though he did not say what that response would be. Outside the White House, Biden responded to a reporter’s question on whether he holds Iran responsible for the deaths of the three U.S. soldiers.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I do hold them responsible in the sense that they’re supplying the weapons to the people who did it. … I don’t think we need a wider war in the Middle East. That’s not what I’m looking for.

AMY GOODMAN: Iran has denied any involvement in the attack, which targeted Tower 22, a secret U.S. base in northeastern Jordan near the Syrian border. Responsibility for the strike was claimed by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a term used to describe a loose coalition of militias that oppose U.S. support for Israel’s assault on Gaza.

Meanwhile, a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Gulf of Aden shot down an anti-ship cruise missile on Tuesday launched by the Houthis in Yemen, the latest attack targeting U.S. forces in the region.

For more, we’re joined in Washington, D.C., by Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. He’s authored three books on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, with a particular focus on Iran and Israel.

Trita, welcome back to Democracy Now!

TRITA PARSI: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: If you can talk about what took place at this remote base, the killing of the three U.S. soldiers, injuring of about 40 others, and the drumbeat by Republicans, as well as Democrats, as well as the media in the United States, for President Biden to militarily respond? What would this mean?

TRITA PARSI: It obviously depends on how Biden responds. If Biden is thinking about responding in terms of attacking Iran on Iranian soil, then, as the warning came from Tehran, it’s very, very likely that there will be a forceful response by the Iranians, which will bring the United States right into a shooting war with Iranians, which is something that the administration says that they have been seeking to avoid. They have been repeating that message several times in the last couple of days.

I think it is important to note that all of this was predicted. From the very beginning, it was clear. As long as there was no material pressure on Israel to cease its bombardment in Gaza, this eventually would lead to a situation in which the United States would be faced with an attack that actually had left Americans killed. If you take a look at the statistics, there were about 60 attacks by these Iraqi militias against U.S. troops and bases during the first two-and-a-half years of Biden’s presidency. Since October 17th, however, when Israel went into Gaza, there’s been more than 160 attacks just in these last 100 days. At some point, one of those attacks was going to kill Americans. And the president has essentially accepted this risk, continued to allow Israel to bombard Gaza, in his own words, indiscriminately, knowing very well that the game of statistic was simply such that at some point the Iraqi militias would succeed and Americans would die.

Now we are in that situation, instead of raising questions about this entire strategy as to why we are putting U.S. troops at risk in order for Israel to continue to indiscriminately bomb and kill and slaughter people in Gaza. Instead, there’s been this frenzy about pushing us further into war. And this is how these endless wars begin, tactical responses to attacks by the other side that in the moment may come across as legitimate because, of course, these attacks against U.S. troops are unacceptable, without any recognition, however, that this is leading us into a war whose aims we have not defined, whose exit we cannot envision.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, Trita, when you say that these are legitimate questions of attacks on U.S. troops, but what the heck are U.S. troops continuing to do — be in these countries? This Tower 22, for instance, the U.S. troops in Syria clearly have no authorization from Congress to be there. And importantly, in Iraq, the Iraqi government has been calling for the United States to withdraw the few troops it still has in Iraq from the country, but the U.S. is not disposed to even listen to the government of the country in which its troops are located.

TRITA PARSI: You’re absolutely right. These are the moments where these questions should be asked, which is: Why are we there in the first place? As you noted, the troops in Syria do not have any legal authorization to be there by the U.S. Congress. The troops in Iraq, you know, for such a long time we’ve said that they should be pulled out. Nothing has happened yet. And the essential pretext for keeping them there, which is to fight ISIS, has long expired, because ISIS has been weakened. It’s not been completely eliminated, but these countries, who have far greater stake in the defeat of ISIS, are now capable of handling that on their own, without direct U.S. involvement, and certainly direct U.S. presence, in that fight.

So, we have to really ask ourselves: Why do we continue to have a broader policy in the Middle East, in which we are positioning more than 50,000 American troops in various places in the region right now, in which they’re essentially made to be sitting ducks? And tripwires and a single attack against them can lead to several deaths, which then, again, immediately will cause the rise of these calls for a broader war in the region. This is to the detriment of our own interests.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this whole issue of blaming Iran as directly responsible for these attacks? Every time we hear of one of these resistance groups, it’s always with the adjective the “Iran-backed” or the “Iran-financed” group. Is it your sense that these groups have their own independent life, or is the Biden administration correct in ascribing all of the real motivation coming from Iran?

TRITA PARSI: I think there’s two exaggerated narratives here. One is the Iranian one, in which they’re essentially claiming that they have no control over these groups at all and that they’re completely independent. That is not true. But also the other narrative, the Washington narrative, is not true, one that claims that the Iranians completely control these different groups and that they have no agency of their own. Clearly, they do have agency of their own. On numerous occasions they have acted against the express wishes of the Iranians, particularly in the case of the Houthis. And even in the case of these Iraqi militias, what has happened just in the last 48 hours is that, clearly, there’s been a lot of back-door diplomacy between the Iranians and the United States, and now the Iraqi militias have come out and said that they’re ceasing their attacks on the U.S. troops at this point. And it’s clear that the Iranians have put some pressure on them to essentially deescalate.

I would suspect that the option that the president is considering right now is to do some form of attack inside of Iraq or Syria, probably give the other side ample heads-up in order to evacuate those specific buildings, nevertheless be able to say that he has responded, make sure that it’s not too damaging, but sufficiently strong to be able to calm some of the voices in Washington, but then leave it at that and ensure that there’s some deescalation afterwards. In the short run, that may work, and it might not be a bad plan. In the longer run, however, as long as there is no ceasefire in Gaza, it is really difficult to foresee that these attacks against U.S. troops will end indefinitely. As long as there’s no ceasefire, I suspect that they will resume at some point, which means then that a continued warfare in Gaza by the Israelis is a direct threat to U.S. national interests because of the manner that it puts U.S. troops at risk in the region.

AMY GOODMAN: Trita Parsi, your colleague at Quincy, Bill Hartung, wrote on X, quote, “On the question of Iran’s role in the deaths of three U.S. servicemen, President Biden said 'I do hold them responsible in the sense that they're supplying the weapons to the people who did it.’ Does he feel the same way about the 26,000 deaths caused by U.S. weapons in Gaza?” Bill Hartung asked. Your response, Trita?

TRITA PARSI: Well, I think Bill is absolutely correct. And I think, whether we agree or not with that argument, we have to recognize that is the sentiment throughout the Middle East right now, and probably throughout the larger part of the world, in which the United States is held responsible for what Israel is doing, not just because providing all of these weapons — more than 10,000 tons of weapons have been shipped since October 7th; president has bypassed Congress twice to get them to Israel even faster — but also because of the very active effort by the Biden administration to block a ceasefire. That has twice happened in the Security Council. That means that the large part of the world do see the United States as directly responsible for this. And that, again, is to the very severe detriment of U.S. interest itself and of U.S.’s global standing.

AMY GOODMAN: Trita Parsi, we want to thank you for being with us, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

Coming up, a shocking raid on a Jenin hospital in the occupied West Bank by undercover Israeli forces dressed as doctors and Muslim women in headscarves kills three Palestinians. We’ll speak with Dr. Mustafa Barghouti in Ramallah. Stay with us.

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“An Act of Assassination”: Mustafa Barghouti Slams Undercover Israeli Raid on Jenin Hospital

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