In an interview with Jonathan Schanzer on the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) Morning Brief podcast, Middle East Forum director of policy analysis Michael Rubin critiqued the Biden administration's failure to deter Iran from escalating its proxy war against U.S. forces in the region, which culminated in a January 27 drone attack on a U.S. base along the Syria-Jordan border that killed three soldiers.
The Biden administration's February 2 air strikes against 85 targets in Iraq and Syria linked to Iran's armed proxies (like the preceding eight "proportional" reprisals to the first 165 nonlethal attacks on American troops since October 7) were woefully inadequate to the task, according to Rubin. "The Iranians have always been willing to fight to the last Arab," he told Schanzer. "If you want the Iranians to pay attention, you've got to go after the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commanders," not the "ever-shifting alphabet soup" of militia groups they manage.
IRGC commanders aren't hard to find. "There's plenty of them in Syria, in Lebanon, in Iraq, in Yemen." Not only was the Biden administration too "afraid of escalation" to target IRGC commanders, but it gave them time to evacuate by delaying the air strikes for more than five days, making it virtually certain none would be killed accidentally. This was "military virtue signaling" intended to show the American people "that they were doing something to avenge the deaths of our servicemen," not deterrence, and was likely met with "happiness in Iran."
Rubin emphasized that "deterrence is both military and psychological," insofar as the objective is to instill fear of consequences. "If you're trying to tell the Iranians, 'Don't worry, we're going to abide by your red lines,' that takes away the psychological component and eviscerates the meaning of deterrence."
In closing, Rubin proposed one simple way the United States could immediately take the Iranians out of their comfort zone – the deployment of an aircraft carrier, not to the Persian Gulf or Red Sea (where the USS Eisenhower is currently deployed), but to the Indian Ocean.
"In the Persian Gulf, our aircraft carriers are vulnerable to those speedboats, to drones, to anti-ship missiles, and so forth," he explained. "If we're 400 miles away in the deep blue sea of the Indian Ocean, the Iranians will know we can strike at them, [and that] they can't strike back at us. That's when they start to take notice."