The execution of the American journalist James Wright Foley by Islamic State militants and their threat to do the same to another U.S. citizen has changed the West’s approach to the threat posed by this fundamentalist group occupying portions of Iraq and Syria. The tempo of officials in the West has quickened as preparations to address this threat take on a new urgency.
President Barack Obama will return to Washington today to give a statement on the gruesome execution of an American at the hands of an Islamic militant who appears to have been British-born. Obama will be unable to satisfy the concerns of a nervous and wounded nation if he merely reprises his threadbare role as America’s “comforter-in-chief.” The country demands a plan of action aimed at rolling back ISIS from Iraq and a longer-term strategy to suppress the Islamic State threat in Syria.
In the U.K., Prime Minister David Cameron, too, announced his intention to end his vacation early and return to London after pressure mounted on him to recall Parliament for an emergency session aimed at crafting a plan to confront the threat posed by ISIS.
The language Americans are using to describe the ISIS threat has also changed. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a 2016 hopeful who has positioned himself as among the hawkish in the field of GOP presidential aspirants, minced no words in his statement on Foley’s execution.
“Just as Al Qaeda’s initial killings of Americans abroad foretold the carnage they would unleash within our borders, this barbaric beheading of a defenseless hostage is the clearest indication to date that ISIL has declared war on the United States, on the American people, and on freedom loving people everywhere.
“For more than a year, ISIL has been murdering civilians, raping women and young girls and enslaving them, and carrying out a systematic genocide of anyone who does not share their warped and extremist Islamist views. ISIL cannot be reasoned with, they can’t be negotiated with, and their view of the world is irreconcilable with civilized society.
And, on CBS This Morning, Obama’s former acting CIA director Mike Morell warned the public to mark the date as it was the first time ISIS had attacked Americans directly.
“I think what ISIS is trying to do here,” he began, “is intimidate the United States into backing off of the attacks that we’ve done in the last several weeks.”
“And I think our response should be, and our response will be, to not do that,” Morell continued. “In fact, we should pick up the pace here.”
Morell makes a sound point. From all appearances, the Western airstrikes on ISIS positions in Iraq’s north have successfully dislodged the Islamic State from key positions like those they occupied around Mt. Sinjar and the Mosul Dam. An even more energetic operation would likely enjoy further successes.
If the president’s concerns about expanding operations in Iraq were political, that Americans would never be prepared to risk U.S. blood and treasure in Iraq again, he can probably rest easy knowing that he has the support of the public behind his actions. In public opinion polls, bipartisan majorities have expressed support for airstrikes against the medieval ISIS threat. Today, in the wake of this barbarism against an American journalist with threats of more of the same to come, the American people are likely willing to go even further to neutralize this new enemy.