How Obama Could Respond to James Foley’s Murder
Posted at 11:12 a.m. on Aug. 21, 2014
Royce, 2013 file photo. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
President Barack Obama sent a tough message after an American journalist was murdered by the extremist group, Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL), but the actions that the administration will take in response to the murder, and the timeline for them, are still not fully known.
But what are his options? Many of them range from vague to unlikely.
A YouTube video titled “A message to America” surfaced on Tuesday showing the beheading of journalist James Foley, who went missing from Syria in 2012. ISIS also threatened to kill another American journalist, Steven Sotloff , who has been missing since 2013. On Wednesday, the White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden confirmed that the video was authentic.
On Wednesday afternoon at a news conference, Obama said, “People like [the Islamic State] ultimately fail.” He also added that the group is “killing innocent, unarmed citizens in cowardly acts of violence.”
The House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce said in a statement in reaction to the beheading of Foley, “We must get serious about confronting this force, including by aggressively arming those battling it.”
The United States has been conducting military airstrikes and was able to assist in the retaking of the Mosul Dam in Iraq from ISIS. On Monday Obama promised that the U.S. would provide support if the Kurdish forces and Iraqi Security Forces can work together and are capable of “taking the fight to ISIL.” He said, “If they continue to do so, they will have the strong support of the United States of America.”
On Thursday, Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. said that the U.S. Justice Department will be conducting a criminal investigation into the death of Foley.
Some aren’t convinced that much will change.
“The administration should make an example of the Islamic State and go all in against them and show there is a price to pay,” Bill Roggio, editor of The Long War Journal and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “I think what is most likely to happen; U.S. continues to do what they are doing, continue with the airstrikes, and ISIS kills the captive.”
According to Roggio, the group is estimated to have anywhere around 50,000 members, thousands of foreign fighters and is more of an army rather than a smaller extremist group.
Aki Peritz, a former CIA counterterrorism analyst and coauthor of “Find, Fix, Finish: Inside the Counterterrorism Campaigns that Killed bin Laden and Devastated Al Qaeda,” believes one of the bigger goals for ISIS is to spread fear among the American public.
“They want to inspire terror in their enemies. They want to show that this is a ruthless organization which is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve its goal, to create a media splash,” Peritz said.
The Obama administration has repeatedly spoken against “boots on the ground” in Iraq. “The last thing they wanted to do was engage/re-engage in Iraq, militarily,” Roggio said. “The Iraqi military have been begging for U.S. airstrikes for a year now. Then the Islamic State steps in, they execute an American, and they have another.”
The possibility of an attack on the United States is not something that Roggio believes can be ignored.
“It’s certainly possible,” he said. “They have training camps. They have thousands of fighters, with foreign fighters. The ISIS wants to position itself as the leader of the global jihad and if they could pull off an attack to the U.S., it would bolster their image among the jihadists.”
President Obama said that justice would be served in the case of Foley. “When people harm Americans, anywhere, we do what’s necessary to see that justice is done. And we act against ISIL, standing alongside others,” he said.
Peritz is skeptical of when the justice would be served and reiterated the growing strength of the extremist group.
“ISIS is a very powerful terrorist organization that is well established in Syria and Iraq,” he said. “How to achieve that justice will require a lot more than airstrikes. It will require robust intelligence, boots on the ground and the political will to see it through, which might be months, might be years.”
While some lawmakers have demanded Obama seek congressional approval for carrying out air strikes in Iraq and have said U.S. intervention is creeping toward war, others have been urging the administration to keep fighting against Islamic State insurgents, warning that the group aspires to carry out terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.
“The United States must not cower to these terrorists’ ruthless demands by remaining on the sidelines,” House Intelligence Committee member Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., said Tuesday. “I will continue to work with my colleagues on the Intelligence Committee to ensure we do all we can to deal with this growing threat.”
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., compared Foley’s alleged murder to al-Qaida’s killing in 2002 of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Both acts are “intended to have a chilling effect on press coverage,” she said.
“It is abundantly clear that ISIS is a terrorist organization that has no respect for human life,” Maloney said in a written statement, “and I believe the international community should come together to halt its spread.”
Jen Scholtes contributed to this story.