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U.S. Steps Up Offensive Against Iranian Proxies
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U.S. Steps Up Offensive Against Iranian Proxies

Will the Biden administration’s latest actions be enough to deter attacks on U.S. troops and treasure?

Happy Monday! Apple made its opening gambit in the virtual reality market with the release of its Vision Pro headset on Friday, the company’s first entirely new product in seven years. Early reviews are largely positive, but we’ll need some real convincing before we drop $3,500 on glorified ski goggles.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The U.S. military on Friday carried out strikes on more than 85 targets in Syria and Iraq in retaliation for the deaths of three U.S. service members last week after an Iranian-backed militia struck Tower 22, a U.S. base in northern Jordan. The Pentagon said the U.S. strikes targeted a variety of facilities used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and linked militias, and National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Sunday that “there will be additional response action taken by the administration against the IRGC and these groups that they’re backing.” In an interview with NBC News on Sunday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan didn’t rule out striking targets in Iran itself. Meanwhile, the U.K. and U.S. on Saturday launched a wave of strikes in Yemen, targeting sites controlled by the Iranian-backed Houthis. Australia, Bahrain, Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands, and New Zealand provided intelligence and logistics support for the attacks on 36 targets at 13 locations in Yemen, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said. CENTCOM also announced an additional strike on Sunday, which hit a Houthi anti-ship missile the U.S. says was preparing to launch against ships in the Red Sea.
  • At least 112 people have died since forest fires broke out across a heavily populated area of central Chile on Friday. Chilean President Gabriel Boric said Sunday he expected the death toll to rise as firefighters struggle to contain the blazes that have thus far damaged nearly 1,400 homes. The fires, which started during a summer heat wave in the South American country, are threatening Viña del Mar and Valparaiso, two coastal cities popular with tourists.
  • Northern Ireland installed its first nationalist leader as Michelle O’Neill—a member of Sinn Fein who favors Northern Ireland’s reunification with the Republic of Ireland—became first minister on Saturday after her party’s success in the 2022 legislative elections. Northern Ireland—which is a part of the U.K.—has spent two years without a government after the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) walked away from the legislature over disagreements regarding post-Brexit trade agreements. O’Neill and her DUP counterpart, Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly, have equal power and neither can function without the other, but O’Neill holds the more prestigious title of first minister because her party holds more seats in the legislature.
  • House Speaker Mike Johnson said on Saturday that the lower chamber will vote this week on $17.6 billion in aid for Israel without the offsetting cuts to the Internal Revenue Service that angered Democrats during supplemental funding battles in the fall. The package would undercut bipartisan negotiations in the Senate over a bill—the text of which was released Sunday—that would link funding for Israel, Ukraine, and the Indo-Pacific with immigration reform, but is unlikely to receive support in the Republican-controlled House even if it manages to pass the Senate. House Republicans’ standalone aid package would fund Israel’s missile defense system as well as U.S. military operations in the region. 
  • Federal District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing special counsel Jack Smith’s case against former President Donald Trump regarding his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, on Friday removed his trial from her schedule, officially indicating it will not begin on March 4 as originally planned. The delay allows the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to consider whether the former president is immune from prosecution. 
  • In Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis—who is bringing a sprawling racketeering case against Trump and several of his associates—confirmed on Friday her romantic relationship with a special prosecutor, Nathan Wade, who is also working on the case, but denied that the relationship should disqualify either of them from continuing on the case. Both Wade and Willis, who say their relationship began in 2022, after Willis hired Wade in 2021, pushed back on the claim that she had benefited financially from hiring Wade by having him pay for trips the pair took together, writing in a court filing that “financial responsibility for personal travel taken is divided roughly evenly” between the pair. A defendant in the Georgia case, Michael Roman, is seeking to have the charges against him dismissed and Willis disqualified based on the allegations of misconduct. 
  • President Joe Biden won the Democratic primary in South Carolina on Saturday—the Democratic Party’s first official primary of the cycle—with more than 96 percent of the vote. In South Carolina—where black voters in particular helped to deliver Biden a critical victory in the 2020 primary—self-help author Marianne Williamson and Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota, Biden’s two long-shot Democratic challengers, split the remaining four percent.
  • Axios reported Sunday that Nikki Haley’s presidential campaign raised $16.5 million in January, including more than $5 million in online grassroots donations in the days following her second-place finish in New Hampshire’s GOP primary, when Donald Trump vowed to “permanently bar” Haley donors from the MAGA camp. There’s been little recent polling of the race in South Carolina, but one survey last week—from Monmouth University and the Washington Post—showed Haley trailing Trump in her home state 58 percent to 32 percent.
  • Carl Weathers, who played Apollo Creed in the Rocky film franchise, died on Thursday at the age of 76. The Louisiana-born actor started his career as a professional football player in the NFL and Canadian football league before leaving the sport to become an actor in 1974. He died in his sleep, according to his manager. 
  • Taylor Swift won the award for album of the year at the 66th annual Grammy Awards last night for her album Midnights, becoming the first artist to win four album of the year awards—and announcing a new album is on the way for good measure. Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?” won the award for song of the year, and Victoria Monét won best new artist.

A Weekend of Retaliation

Air Force Lt Col. Crystal Glaster, Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations deputy commander; Lt. Gen. Jody Daniels, Chief of U.S. Army Reserve; Gen. Randy George, Chief of Staff of the Army; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown, first lady Dr. Jill Biden, and U.S. President Joseph Biden stand for a prayer during the dignified transfer for fallen service members U.S. Army Sgt. William Rivers, Sgt. Breonna Moffett, and Sgt. Kennedy Sanders at Dover Air Force Base on February 2, 2024, in Dover, Delaware. U.S. Army Sgt. William Rivers, Sgt. Breonna Moffett, and Sgt. Kennedy Sanders was killed in addition to 40 other troops were injured during a drone strike in Jordan. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Nearly a week after an attack by an Iranian-backed militia group on a U.S. military base in Jordan killed three American service members and wounded dozens more, President Joe Biden announced the American reprisal. “Our response began today,” Biden said in a statement released on Friday describing the first wave of retaliatory airstrikes. “It will continue at times and places of our choosing.”

The U.S. struck more than 85 targets at seven sites in Iraq and Syria on Friday, hitting operations and intelligence centers, weapons caches, and storage facilities used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and affiliated militant groups. The strikes—targeting the militias in the Middle East and their Iranian sponsors “who facilitated attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces,” according to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM)—represent the White House’s latest attempts to stop the Islamic Republic’s regional aggression. But as Iranian proxies threaten continued violence, political opponents at home are accusing Biden of projecting weakness on the world stage—at the expense of American lives.

The strikes on Friday—the first official U.S. retaliation in response to the deadly attack on the Tower 22 base in Jordan—utilized long-range B1 bombers and reportedly killed at least 40 people. Three sites in Iraq and four in Syria were struck in a span of 30 minutes, and were selected based on their connection to specific previous attacks on American troops. “This wasn’t just a message-sending routine,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Friday. “This was about degrading capability; taking away, in a more robust way than we have in the past—taking away capabilities by the IRGC and the militant groups.”

The Biden administration alerted the Iraqi government to its plans ahead of the attack—but the advance notice might not have been entirely necessary. The White House had telegraphed its intentions to retaliate against Iran’s proxies following the Tower 22 attack for almost a week, a move some experts criticized as giving IRGC leadership advance warning and enough time to escape American airstrikes. “How many IRGC and IRGC-QF commanders will the [U.S.] kill and how senior are they?” Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation of Defense for Democracies, tweeted on Friday. “Or did they all get out of Dodge after days of the Biden administration telegraphing these strikes?”

But the weekend’s military campaign against Iranian proxies wasn’t just limited to Iraq and Syria. On Saturday, the U.S. and U.K. (supported by Australia, Bahrain, Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands, and New Zealand) struck Houthi weapons, missile launchers, and radar systems in Yemen in the second-largest attack so far launched by the allies against the group. “These strikes are intended to degrade Houthi capabilities used to continue their reckless and unlawful attacks on U.S. and U.K. ships as well as international commercial shipping in the Red Sea, Bab Al-Mandeb Strait, and the Gulf of Aden,” CENTCOM wrote in a statement released on Saturday. On Sunday, the U.S. reportedly destroyed an additional Houthi cruise missile that posed an “imminent threat” to ships in the region.

When asked if the escalation of U.S. strikes in the Middle East signaled an expansion of the Israel-Hamas war, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that the Biden administration distinguishes between the various theaters. “We don’t accept that what’s happening in the Red Sea … is entirely tied to the war in Gaza, because the Houthis are attacking shipping that has absolutely nothing to do with Israel,” Sullivan told NBC News’ Meet the Press on Sunday. “So there are connections among these things to be sure, but these are distinct threats as well that we need to deal with on their own basis.”

The Houthis—who have thus far promised to “meet escalation with escalation”—have attempted to portray their actions as being taken in defense of Gazans, even as their attacks in the Red Sea grow increasingly indiscriminate. In response to the latest round of U.S. and U.K. retaliatory strikes, a senior Houthi official said that “military operations against the Zionist entity will continue until the aggression against Gaza stops, no matter what sacrifices it demands from us.”

Hossein Salami, head of the IRGC, has been more tempered in his response than the Houthi leadership that operates at the pleasure of Tehran. On Wednesday, Salami said that Iran was “not looking for war” but promised to “not leave any threat unanswered.”

Since the start of the Hamas-Israel war and sprawling violence across the Middle East targeting American interests, Biden administration officials have toed the line between deterrence and escalation in their actions and rhetoric. The U.S.’s retaliatory efforts have so far targeted Iran’s “Axis of Resistance,” which includes proxy groups in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria—but not Iran itself, which supports all of the groups that have attacked U.S. and international shipping, bases, and personnel. Though Sullivan did not rule out future strikes within Iran and said Biden was “determined to respond forcefully to attacks on our people,” he at the same time stressed that the president was “not looking for wider war.”

Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress have upped their criticisms of the administration’s handling of the Middle East’s deteriorating security situation. “The public handwringing and excessive signaling undercuts our ability to put a decisive end to the barrage of attacks endured over the past few months,” House Speaker Mike Johnson said in a statement released Friday. “Now is the time for President Biden to wake up to the reality that his policy of placating Iran has failed.” Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, was similarly critical of the Biden administration’s willingness to alert Iran to its moves, giving enemies “time to relocate and hide.”

While Wicker believes the strikes are a step in the right direction, he criticized the Biden administration for mounting a weak response. “Instead of giving the Ayatollah the bloody nose that he deserves, we continue to give him a slap on the wrist,” he said in a statement released Friday.

Iranian-backed militias have launched over 165 attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria since October, and at least 30 ships have been threatened by the Houthis in the Red Sea. Whether the White House wishes for an escalation in the region or not, the U.S. and Iran now seem on the precipice of one. Referring to the weekend’s strikes, Sullivan made it clear that the White House was preparing for an extended show of force. “The president was clear when he ordered them and when he conducted them that that was the beginning of our response,” Sullivan said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. “And there will be more steps to come.”

Worth Your Time

  • Are we understanding Ozempic all wrong? The revolutionary new drug has captured the public’s attention for its ability to help people shed pounds seemingly effortlessly. But Rachel Bedard, a doctor at a homeless clinic in Brooklyn, argues the drug’s life-changing effects for people with diabetes and other chronic illnesses are the real headline. “Ozempic seems to be something of a miracle,” Bedard wrote for New York magazine. “It’s a very effective treatment for diabetes as well as high blood pressure, heart failure, and kidney disease. Recently, I met a woman I’ll call Arlene. Arlene has bad diabetes and is about 80 pounds overweight. Diabetes is a hard condition to manage; injecting insulin causes weight gain, so treating it often causes a person’s obesity to worsen. Arlene lives in a shelter where she eats what the shelter serves her, which is basically s—, and she’s in a wheelchair, which prevents her from exercising. A few weeks before I met her, a specialist had started Arlene on Ozempic. In four weeks, Arlene had lost almost ten pounds. Her blood sugar was already in much better control, and she thought her back pain had improved. Arlene used the word ‘miracle’ to describe the effects; the medication was the first thing in a long time to make her feel hopeful. Despite everything we now know about Ozempic’s radical therapeutic potential, we’re still calling it a ‘weight-loss drug,’ which allows us to keep it in a zone of moral ambivalence and interpret it using familiar conventions. America’s silent majority of chronic-disease sufferers—dying prematurely, disabled, or on dialysis—desperately need this drug. For them, taking this medication and losing weight isn’t a question of succumbing to vanity or vanquishing one’s inner critic.”
  • We highly suggest a look through the stunning photos submitted to the 12th annual Ocean Art competition put on by the Underwater Photography Guide. We’re particularly taken with the “Best in Show” winner, a photo of a monkey going for a dip to hunt crabs in Thailand, and a photo of a sea lion having some fun with a school of sardines, which won the first prize for black-and-white entries.

The Piano Man Returns

Presented Without Comment

NPR: Nikki Haley Makes Surprise Appearance on SNL, Mocking Donald Trump and Joe Biden

Also Presented Without Comment

New York Post: Canada Halts Controversial Assisted Suicide Program for Mentally Ill Due to Lack of Doctors Willing to Participate

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Variety: Larry David Attacked Elmo on Live TV Because He ‘Was Going on About Mental Health’ and ‘I Couldn’t Take It’

“Yeah, yeah. I did it,” David said when asked for an explanation. He then impersonated Elmo’s high-pitched voice and continued: “Elmo was talking. I was waiting to be interviewed, and Elmo was going on about mental health and I had to listen to every word. And I was going, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, I don’t think I can take another second of this!’ And so I got off my chair and I approached him and I throttled him! I couldn’t take it!”

David then wisecracked: “And you know what? I would do it again!”

Toeing the Company Line

  • The Dispatch Monthly Mailbag (🔒) is back, and this month, TMD’s own Mary Trimble will be answering your questions—members can drop them in the comments here
  • In the newsletters: Drucker and Andrew covered the financial picture of the 2024 race and efforts to censure Rep. Ilhan Omar in Dispatch Politics, Jonah explained why the film Groundhog Day is a metaphor for how to achieve the good life, Nick unpacked (🔒) the pros and cons of Sen. Katie Britt of Alabama as Trump’s VP pick, and Chris argued (🔒) South Carolina still matters for Joe Biden, even if it matters less than it did four years ago.
  • On the podcasts: Jonah ruminated on Groundhog Day, Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce, and anti-NATO twitter on this weekend’s Remnant, while J.W. Verret joins Jamie on today’s Dispatch Podcast to discuss his transition from Biden voter to reluctant Trump supporter.
  • On the site over the weekend: Robert A. George surveyed the world of political comedy to which Jon Stewart is set to make his return, and Shadab Farooq covered growing concerns over Hindu Nationalism in India.
  • On the site today: Michael Toscano makes the case for new regulations on children’s ability to use social media after Jessica Melugin made the case against them last week.

Let Us Know

Do you think the Biden administration’s response in the Middle East over the weekend will be enough to end the months of attacks from Iranian proxies? Does the U.S. need to strike inside Iran itself?

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James Scimecca

James Scimecca works on editorial partnerships for The Dispatch, and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he served as the director of communications at the Empire Center for Public Policy. When James is not promoting the work of his Dispatch colleagues, he can usually be found running along the Potomac River, cooking up a new recipe, or rooting for a beleaguered New York sports team.

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Mary Trimble

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

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Grayson Logue

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.