The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board - March 24, 2023
Stop Iran Now
Pictured: Iran drone attack on US base in Syria - October 20, 2021. Officials said 5 ‘suicide drones’ loaded with ball bearings and shrapnel hit the al-Tanf base on October 20; American troops had evacuated after being tipped off by Israel.
Retreat has serious costs, as Americans have learned the hard way since the Afghanistan withdrawal of 2021. Adversaries like Vladimir Putin saw it as a message that he could invade Ukraine and President Biden wouldn’t get involved. The U.S. ability to deter was greatly weakened. Now Iran and its militias are testing U.S. resolve in Syria and Iraq, and Americans are the targets.
Militias backed by Iran carried out a drone attack on a U.S. base in northeast Syria on Thursday, killing an American contractor and wounding five service members and another contractor. The U.S. retaliated by bombing sites used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps.
But the discrete reprisal didn’t seem to deter the militias. Hours later they fired 10 rockets at a second U.S. base in eastern Syria. The U.S. says the rockets missed their target, but the lesson is that the militias don’t fear a U.S. response. The Pentagon and White House boasted about the U.S. retaliation with the usual pledge to stand ready to do it again “at a time and place of our choosing.” It also offered “thoughts and prayers” for the dead and wounded. But wounded Americans—and those still in harm’s way—deserve better than sympathies and a tit-for-tat exchange that won’t impress anyone.
South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham had a better assessment when he said in a statement that “The weak, uncertain response to the initial attack obviously did not work. I fear additional weak and uncertain responses will lead to more American deaths and further embolden our enemies.” It’s a reasonable fear.
The big picture here is that Iran and other adversaries are concluding that the U.S. wants out of the Middle East, and they are willing to spur the exit by inflicting casualties. The U.S. has 900 men and women in Syria and another 2,500 or so in Iraq. They’re fulfilling a vital role in preventing Islamic State rebels from reviving their caliphate in Syria.
Iran, which wants to run Syria as a protectorate, would love to push the U.S. out of both countries. Its militias would then challenge the Iraqi army for domination in Iraq, and its client government in Damascus would consolidate control and threaten Israel.
If President Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin believe in the U.S. mission in those countries, their first obligation is to protect America’s soldiers and citizens. That means putting fear in the minds of our enemies that if they attack Americans, they will be met with a withering and deadly response.