To Mr. Biden’s critics, this is too much calibration, too much caution.
“The overriding intellectual construct of Biden foreign policy is avoidance of escalation,’’ said Kori Schake, a former defense official in the George W. Bush administration who directs foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
“They are not wrong to be worried about escalation,” she said. “But they don’t take into account that it encourages our adversaries. We often seem more worried about fighting wars we can win, and that encourages them to manipulate our fear.”
For Ms. Schake, who was an early leader of the “Never Trump” camp of Republican national security officials, there is a middle ground between attacking Iran and focusing on the proxy groups, like Kataib Hezbollah and the Houthis, who have struck American forces. Mr. Biden could make clear, she said, that officers of the Revolutionary Guards forces “are targets anytime they set foot outside of Iran.”
Mr. Biden’s decision to mount the strike with B-1B bombers that took off from the continental United States carried its own message, of course: While Pentagon officials said the B1’s were the best bomber available for the complexity of these strikes, they were also the same warplanes that would be used in any attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, should Tehran decide to make a final sprint for a nuclear weapon. Nothing reminds Tehran of the reach of American power more than a strike next door, one official said on Saturday morning.