The President is in Estonia and he held a press conference to direct a message to ISIS in the wake of the beheading of a second American.
U.S. intelligence officials have verified the authenticity of a video showing the beheading American journalist Steven Sotloff, President Obama said Wednesday as he declared the U.S. would “not be intimidated” by the Islamic State militants’ acts of “barbarism.”
“Whatever these murderers think they’ll achieve by killing innocent Americans like Steven, they have already failed,” Obama said. “We will not forget, and our reach is long and justice will be served.”
The Sunni militant group released the video Tuesday purportedly showing Sotloff shortly before and after his death. In the video, a black-clad militant declares that Sotloff’s killing was retaliation for the U.S. airstrike Obama has ordered on Islamic State targets in northern Iraq.
“Just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people,” the man says.
Our reach is long. And our arm is powerful. But what will we do with it? Graeme Wood has published a lengthy piece on What ISIS’s Leader Really Wants over at the New Republic. Honestly, I don’t much care what he wants. But Wood notes – correctly, I think – that if Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is taken out, there is a long line of people waiting to take his place.
What this means for us is that, as much as it pains me to say it, drones and airstrikes may simply not be enough here. It would be a rewarding moment for the nation if we woke up to see video of a smart bomb taking out al-Baghdadi’s car, but it doesn’t seem like much would change. We may have to face the fact that ISIS needs to be dealt with directly in a way that removes the majority of their fighting forces and breaks their optimistic spirit which currently leads them to believe they can take and hold vast swaths of territory without repercussions from the United States and our allies.
This is a difficult call for me, particularly given how long Ed and I have spent arguing over American intervention overseas. But this is something different. I still have no interest in “fixing Iraq” and putting in a long term standing army, nor do I think our troops need new postal addresses in Syria. But a real solution here may come down to a need for some tens of thousands of troops on the ground, and sooner rather than later. If ISIS is foolish enough to move between towns in large armored columns again, then fine… let’s blow them to pieces. But many of them will be blending in with the locals as per the usual game plan over there. And that, unfortunately, sounds like a job for the Army. Not to stay there, to be sure, but these guys need to be taken out. If that means we have to lay waste to some of the countryside and take heat for some collateral damage, so be it. If we have allies who want to shoulder the load with us, that would be great. But if not, our troops are up to the task.
Yes, Mr. President, as Commander in Chief your reach is long and your arm is powerful. But what will you do with it?
Update (Ed): I’m not sure how many people here realize that Jazz and I became friends while arguing vociferously over the Iraq War during my days at Captains Quarters and Jazz’s at Middle Earth Journal and The Moderate Voice, but it’s true. And I agree with Jazz here that this situation is different than the question we faced in 2003 in Iraq, and that the issue here is more direct, if no less complicated.