Don't start a war over a hostage

The purpose of the ISIS threats are less straightforward than they may seem. Using a lurid murder to frame its warning against airstrikes was, at least, a form of psychological warfare. It may actually be an attempt to bait the U.S. into sending troops to the Middle East drawing Americans back within striking range, and into a battle that would increase their recruitment and prestige among fellow jihadis.

J.M. Berger, a researcher and expert on extremism and jihadist terrorism, has written that “everything about [ISIS’s] strategy over the last two months, particularly its media strategy, points to its desire to draw the U.S. into a military confrontation on the ground.”

If ISIS is seeking to draw the U.S. back into the Middle East it could find that a campaign of airstrikes offers it heavy losses and few American targets. At that point, if they can’t reach Americans on the battlefield, ISIS may believe that making another video is its most powerful weapon.