The gruesome beheading of American journalist James Foley is yet another tragedy that adds to the staggering number of lives claimed by globalized terrorism. While Foley’s murder was intended to “punish” America for airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq, the release of the video documenting the savage murder and threat to the life of kidnapped journalist Steven Sotloff was also meant to discourage US military intervention against the Islamic State, which represents a thorough misunderstanding of America’s emotional character, as exemplified by our impulse to strike back in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Using a British national to carry out the killing, the apparent attempt of the Islamic State to demonstrate it has a global reach and global support only intensifies the blunder as this fact guilt the British government into action and reminds the world global terrorism is a threat to everyone.
Just as the downing of Malaysia flight MH17 over Ukrainian territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists was a call to action for Europeans, the release of the video tape has sparked a similar outcry and can easily lead to a similar response against the Islamic State. The West experiences its share of violent crime, so the murder of James Foley, no matter how gruesome, would have never been enough to deter American military intervention in Iraq. After all, Americans are thoroughly accustomed to the notion that we do not negotiate with terrorist, which would include ending our involvement in a conflict to save a civilian. If anything, the release of the video should have been expected to provoke greater US intervention. Given Foley’s murder likely took place in Syria, which is where he was working when he was kidnapped, and the reality that the killing of a fellow American brings home the threat of violence, i.e. Americans can now better relate with Iraqi and Syrian People, the Islamic State has only managed to help justify expanding US military intervention into Syria.
Despite growing support for airstrikes in Iraq, the US is, truthfully, very hesitant to take on such a heavy burden considering how much blood and treasure America has already spent on the failing Iraq state. With the airstrike option affording the American People an “easy” option to support security forces, which can be armed by the US and European partners, and militias that are capable of pushing back Islamic State fighters, arguments against US intervention in Iraq and Syria are growing less valid. Because America truly cannot afford to send legions of ground troops and play the role of global policeman, increasing European support, coupled with a shifting narrative, which vilifies, versus glorifies, extremist violence and drives a call to arms for nations throughout the region, sets up a situation where America’s failure to provide air and intelligence support against the Islamic State would be a thorough failure of the US to respond to a national/international security threat. With this dynamic playing out in the background, the Islamic State’s brutal murder of a civilian only help solidify it as a terrorist group, which is a stigma it tried to dispel by trying to governor the territory it captured, while the release of the video tape was a clear strategic mistake as the Islamic State has shocked the conscious of the world.
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