As a candidate in 2019, President Biden promised to end the forever wars.
He said at that time that force should be a last resort, used only “when the objective is clear and achievable, and with the informed consent of the American people.”
So when Biden ordered airstrikes against the Houthis in Yemen, he drew criticism from his fellow Democrats, who argued that he needed congressional authorization for the attacks against the Yemeni group.
Critics argued that the US Constitution gives Congress, not the president, the power to declare war.
“The President needs to come to Congress before launching a strike against the Houthis in Yemen and involving us in another Middle East conflict,” Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna said in a social media post earlier this month.
“That is Article I of the Constitution. I will stand up for that regardless of whether a Democrat or Republican is in the White House.”
Still, many in official Washington – which remains largely hawkish on foreign policy and unwavering its support for Israel – welcomed the strike.
Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson said the attacks were “long overdue”.
“We must hope these operations indicate a true shift in the Biden Administration’s approach to Iran and its proxies that are engaging in such evil and wreaking such havoc,” Johnson added.
“They must understand there is a serious price to pay for their global acts of terror and their attacks on US personnel and commercial vessels. America must always project strength, especially in these dangerous times.”
The US launched the first strikes against the Houthis in cooperation with the United Kingdom on January 11. There have been several rounds of further American-led attacks on targets in Yemen since. The Biden administration also labeled the Houthis a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist group.”
The Yemeni group had been launching attacks on shipping lanes in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The Houthis had pledged to hit vessels tied to Israel until the Israeli government ends its war on Gaza.
Early on, Washington rejected the Houthi operations and tried to separate them from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, accusing Iran of direct involvement in the attacks.
But Tehran has denied taking parts in them, stressing that its allies – including the Houthis – operate independently.
US officials had said that the Houthis are disrupting global trade and hurting people around the world. But the Yemeni group has described its actions as a naval blockade against Israel.
In Washington, many of Israel’s allies were quick to cheer for the US strikes. Many tried to argue that the Houthi behavior calls for stricter US policies against Iran.
“I welcome the US and coalition operations against the Iran-backed Houthi terrorists responsible for violently disrupting international commerce in the Red Sea and attacking American vessels. President Biden’s decision to use military force against these Iranian proxies is overdue,” Republican Senate Minority Leader McConnell said in a statement.
He added that Iranian leaders “must believe that they will pay a meaningful price unless they abandon their worldwide campaign of terror.”
Much of the criticism of the strikes centered on questioning Biden’s legal authority to launch them unilaterally.
“This is an unacceptable violation of the Constitution. Article 1 requires that military action be authorized by Congress,” progressive Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal said.
Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib also accused Biden of “violating Article I of the Constitution by carrying out airstrikes in Yemen without congressional approval.”
“The American people are tired of endless war,” she said.
Republican Senator Mike Lee also sided with those criticizing the strikes. “The Constitution matters, regardless of party affiliation,” he said.
But the White House stressed that the president is acting within his powers as commander of chief of the armed forces.
“We’re very comfortable and confident in the legal authorities that the President exercised to conduct these strikes,” National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said.
‘Are they stopping the Houthis?’
Beyond the legal questions, many commentators criticized the bombing campaign as another US military intervention in a part of the world that has seen decades of failure of American militarism.
Biden fuelled these arguments with a rather bemusing statement last week; when he was asked whether the strikes are working, he responded: “Well, when you say ‘working’ — are they stopping the Houthis? No. Are they gonna continue? Yes.”
Palestinian rights advocates also stressed that the best way to stop the Houthi attack is to stop the horrific mass killings of Palestinians in Israel in Gaza.
“These airstrikes aren’t about ‘security’ for cargo or ‘defense.’ They’re about punishing the Yemeni people,” the anti-war group Code Pink said in a social media post.
“I have what some may consider a dumb idea, but here it is: stop the bombing of Gaza, then the attacks on commercial shipping will end,” Congressman Hank Johnson said.