President Biden’s patience, and his own fear of escalation, ran out Thursday night as U.S. and British forces hit more than 60 targets across 16 locations with more than 100 precision-guided munitions. The Houthis have been using these weapons depots, radars and launch sites to “endanger freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most vital waterways,” as the White House said in a statement.
The U.S. strikes finally put some muscle and above all credibility behind warnings by American officials that the Houthis would face “consequences” if they kept up their piracy. Several denunciations and even a U.S.-led international naval coalition to protect shipping didn’t dissuade the terrorists.
The Houthis responded Tuesday to the Biden Administration’s last cease and desist letter by sending 20 or so drones, and cruise and ballistic missiles at a cluster of U.S. and British ships and an American-flagged commercial vessel. The terrorists have launched some 27 attacks in the Red Sea since November.
Mr. Biden had to respond if he wanted his warnings to have any force. The Houthis have now paid a price for their piracy, and they say five of their own died in the attacks. Now we’ll see whether the U.S. strikes will restore America’s vanishing deterrence in the region. The strategy of warnings without military follow-through had failed.
The Houthis responded Thursday with defiance and a vow to keep launching attacks. A senior Administration official said “we would not be surprised to see some sort of response” after the strikes. The Houthis also have far more military capacity than Thursday’s strikes destroyed. That’s why the U.S. message should be that another Houthi attack would be met with even harsher punishment. The worst message is to suggest that this is a one-time response.
As ever, the party behind the Middle East violence is Iran. Tehran arms the Houthis and provides real-time targeting intelligence against shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. This week Iran joined the piracy by seizing an oil tanker off the coast of Oman.
The goal is to sow chaos, and neither Iran nor its allies in the Kremlin care if the price of oil pops, as it has. As oil exporters, they benefit. The White House is at pains to say it wants no military engagement with Iran, but Iran through its proxy militias sure seems to want one with the U.S.
One misguided criticism of Mr. Biden’s use of force is the claim from the Congressional backbenches that he’s violated the Constitution. “The President needs to come to Congress before launching a strike against the Houthis in Yemen and involving us in another middle east conflict,” Rep. Ro Khanna tweeted, to take one example.
He’s wrong. Presidents have used force to combat threats to American commerce and citizens since Thomas Jefferson sent Marines to fight the Barbary pirates. The Houthis have endangered U.S. sailors and ships—as have other Iran proxies some 130 times across the Middle East.
The Constitution gives the Commander in Chief broad authority to respond to such attacks without having to get permission from Mr. Khanna. If Congress wants to contribute to restoring global order, it would pass a resolution supporting Mr. Biden’s strikes and increase the defense budget.
Any use of force carries the risk of escalation, but the Houthis and Iran started this exchange, and the failure of Mr. Biden to respond for weeks has produced its own escalation. Tehran is testing America’s will, and on Thursday they were met with strength. Americans, and anyone who wants a more tranquil world, should hope this is the beginning of new resolve by the Biden Administration.