Undeclared conflict? America's battles with Iran-backed militia escalate, again

The latest strikes by US President Joe Biden against Iran-backed militias in Syria and Iraq are not the first or likely to be the last of his young presidency.Some of Biden's Democratic colleagues ask the critical question: Does the pattern of attacks & counter-attacks amount a undeclared conflict for them?They say that if it does, the United States could end up in a direct war against Iran without Congress' involvement. This is an issue that has become more political fraught after decades of "forever" wars."It's difficult to argue, given how fast attacks against US troops are occurring and now the increasing frequency with which our responses are being issued, that this isn't warfare," Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat, said to Reuters. Murphy heads a crucial Senate subcommittee on foreign relations."What we worry about most is that the United States will go into war without the American people being able weigh in."In January 2020, the United States killed an Iranian general. Iran responded with missile strikes in Iraq which caused brain injuries to more than 100 US soldiers. After a series exchanges with Iran-backed militias, that was it.The latest round saw US fighter jets attack weapons storage and operational facilities in two locations in Syria and one within Iraq. This was in direct response to drone attacks in Iraq by militias.In apparent retaliation for the attack on US troops in Syria, US troops were subject to rocket fire Monday. However, they were not injured. The US military responded by firing counter-battery artillery at rocket launch positions."A lot people think that the term "forever war" is just an emotive. But, it's actually a descriptor for the type of strike we saw again on Sunday: no strategic goal, and no endpoint in sight. Just permanent presence, tit-fortat strikes," Emma Ashford (a resident fellow at The Atlantic Council) said via Twitter.SALAMI-SLICE APPROACH: The White House stressed Sunday's air strike was designed to deter future militia operations against US personnel and limit escalation.Biden also stated that they were legal.Biden stated that Article Two gives me that authority and that even the Hill people who don't want to admit it have admitted that fact. He was referring to the part of the US Constitution which outlines the power of the president to command-in-chief the armed forces.Brian Finucane is a former State Department official who was with the Office of the Legal Adviser. He said that the current administration, like other predecessors, does not view the episodes as part of an ongoing war.It was a "salami-slice approach," he said.They would describe these as intermittent hostilities. "We had one strike in February, and then the 60-day War Powers clock was essentially reset," Finucane, now at International Crisis Group.He made a comparison between the 1980s tanker wars against Iran, where the Reagan administration considered "each round" of fighting to be a closed-ended event.Experts disagree with this view, pointing out that Iran-backed militias are engaged in a sustained and growing campaign against the US military presence.The Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Michael Knights warned that drone use by militias was becoming more dangerous. They used GPS guidance to precisely target intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and assets of the US-led coalition and missile defenses."In both quantity and quality, the number of attacks by Iraqi militias on coalition points in Iraq is increasing," Knights said. Knights stated that US fatalities are increasing if deterrence does not get restored.The secondary goal of the militias is not to push the United States out, but to show the United States and other countries their proficiency with more advanced weaponry like explosive-laden drones. Phillip Smyth also works at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.