Depends on the Meaning of ISIS

Following the horrific ISIS beheading of an American journalist, James Foley, we are led to believe that the president is beginning to rethink the issue of terrorism, or so we gather from the comments of Ben Rhodes,  his deputy national security advisor.

When you see somebody killed in such a horrific way, that represents a terrorist attack,” [Ben Rhodes, the White House’s deputy national security advisor] said. “That represents a terrorist attack against our country and against an American citizen.”

As is common with the garbled uncoordinated messaging of the administration, Rhodes' characterization just makes it worse that Obama very publicly went golfing after something his adviser describes as a “terrorist attack”. Doesn’t it?

Tom Maguire observes tongue in cheek: “Well, if the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, why can't Obama win the battle against ISIS on the golf courses of Martha's Vineyard?”

But that’s not the only dissonant chord. The Rhodes statement follows the vacuous Department of State spokesperson  Marie Harf’s nonsensical assertions that  we were not at war with ISIS* (or ISIL, the acronym theAdministration seems to prefer for the group and which I reject) and ISIS is not Islamic . *

*The ISIS/ISIL formulation reminds me of the “You say tomato,  I say tomatoe” lyrics but seems to have a more studied propagandistic intention:

With the exception of Reuters and now the Associated Press, most news organizations have not referred to ISIL until President Obama began using the term, which stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. But when Obama used the term 5 times on June 13, and 16 times in his commencement speech at West Point on June 19th, he was using his bully pulpit to make a point.

Most, like this publication, continue to use the widely accepted acronym ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or al-Sham, but both describe the same murderous organization. The difference is that the Levant describes a territory far greater than simply Iraq and Syria. It’s defined as this: the Levant today consists of the island of Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and part of southern Turkey.

Why would Obama prefer ISIL? An “army” of that territorial magnitude takes the focus off the two countries that many believe define Obama’s continued failure in the Middle East. Most likely, he would rather eliminate the connection between the chaos in Iraq with his inaction in Syria. Better that the upheaval in a country to which we committed so much blood and treasure remain the fault of George W. Bush. The president has already been tarred with having failed to secure a Status of Forces deal with Prime Minister al-Maliki, which would have allowed a contingent of American troops to stay in Iraq.


When pressed by reporters for details on what the United States expects from the other governments in the Middle East, Harf refused to go into specifics on how the administration is working with other countries to eliminate the threat posed by these savages.

“Clearly there’s more we can all do to fight [ISIS],” she said.

Harf also emphasized the administration’s view that ISIS does not accurately represent the religion of Islam as a whole.

“[ISIS] does not operate in the name of any religion. The president has been very clear about that, and the more we can underscore that, the better,” Harf said.

As to Harf’s claim about working with other countries to defeat ISIS, Tom Maguire justifiably remains a sceptic

“Because "winning" in Iraq or Afghanistan or even Libya would have been too easy but allying with Assad and Iran to defeat ISIS will justify Obama's second Nobel Peace Prize. Or something.”

Of course, as Shoshana Bryen noted, the Department of State’s attempt at characterizing the group’s religious bona fides is also a fool’s errand:    

Both the President and Mr. Kerry took pains to sever ISIS from the religion of Islam. That is not an appropriate distinction for American political figures to make. Ours is a country that is secular in its governance and does not truck in "true religions" or parsing other people's religious beliefs. The organization speaks precisely in Islamic terms and holds itself out to be authentic Islam. Muslims themselves will either accept ISIS as part of their religious family or drum it out.

It is only possible for the United States to declare ISIS, whether part of Islam or not, to be an enemy organization to the United States and to declare our intention to destroy it. If the President now needs to recalibrate our military intervention in Iraq to include the decimation of ISIS, either his earlier promises of limitations will be broken or the chances of American success are slim to none.

The importance of a strategic plan BEFORE bombing people in another country becomes ever clearer.

As Ms. Bryen notes, Obama’s dithering on this only makes it much harder now to defeat them. For now, inter alia, ISIS has moved off major highways and is blending in with civilian populations, making it harder to target them, and ISIS has threatened to punish innocent civilians in these hamlets and villages for our attacks on them.

Dithering and increasing the risks of action also characterize our handling of the Foley capture from the uutset.

Probably to deflect criticism from the White House, the administration revealed that it had tried to rescue him but had been unsuccessful, suggesting the intelligence and military officials weren’t up to the task. This in turn was denied. And the blame cast on Obama.

According to CIA trained former senior intelligence officer Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer (Ret.)

I’m hearing from my friends in the Pentagon, they are giving him every single option way ahead of time. And let me give you a little secret here: The reason that raid into Syria failed to get Foley and those guys was because the president drug his feet. He waited too long, the intel got stale, and by the time we actually gave the “go” word it failed because we just didn’t react quick enough.

Doesn’t sound out of character to me, sounds a lot like the accounts of the Benghazi debacle, and I tend to credit it.

Even worse than trying to airbrush Obama’s responsibility for the failure to check ISIS, the leak about the failure contained enough detail to jeopardize further rescue attempts:

Joseph Miller is the pen name for a ranking Department of Defense official with a background in U.S. special operations and combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has worked in strategic planning.

On Wednesday, the White House leaked a classified special forces operation to rescue American hostages in Syria. The reason: political cover. The cost: so far, unknown.

But this much, we know: The politicized leak of this operation cut through the fog of war to let our enemies know exactly what happened that day in the desert, and because of that, future attempts to free American hostages will be more difficult to plan, farther between, and more dangerous to carry out.

The longer this continues, the more questions are raised and the more backstories come to the fore.

Were Foley and Austin Tice U.S. spies or merely thought to be by ISIS?

While it is getting little or no coverage in the main media, Foley was apparently a jihadi sympathizer and an anti-American and anti-Israeli propagandist. 

And forgotten in much of the Foley coverage is the fact that Austin Tice, another U.S. journalist with similar sympathies, was captured and executed earlier by those he had supported. Though we haven’t the gory video of his execution, we do have a terrifying video of his capture and pleas: 


What interest could ISIS have in murdering western journalists sympathetic to them? Or were Tice and Foley simply conveniently located targets?

If they were working for us, the failure of the rescue is even more tragic and poses even more danger to our interests.

As horrific as their murders were, it is somewhat harder to have great sympathy for useful idiots who deliberately and repeatedly put themselves in harm’s way than it is for those who acting under cover were working in our interests. We may never learn the truth of this.

We may, however, find out who the executioners were. In Foley’s case, we have reason to believe from his speech and from other evidence, including that from former captives.

Suspicion now is on a British citizen.

A British rapper whose father is awaiting trial in Manhattan for a pair of US embassy bombings is a leading suspect in the barbaric beheading of American journalist James Foley, it was revealed on Friday.

Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary -- who recently tweeted a photo of himself holding up a severed head -- was among three Brits identified as possibly being the masked killer known as “John the Beatle.”
Bary, 24, is the son of an Egyptian-born militant who is awaiting trial on terror charges tied to the deadly 1998 bombings of embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Also under investigation are the brother of a British doctor once charged with kidnapping two Western war correspondents, and a former gang member who converted to Islam and traveled to Syria, Britain’s Telegraph newspaper reported.

If it turns out it’s Bary, we can see the result of another sort of Western leadership paralysis, because his father has been avoiding consequences of his actions in the bombings for over a decade as the British and U.S. governments try to fight war through criminal proceedings and get hung up on things like extradition and criminal due process requirements.

In the meantime, the terrorism metastasizes. And we seem to be dealing with a second generation of barbarians.

To respond effectively to an act of war or not to  is the question. The administration’s Harf response that ISIS is at war with everyone, not America, doesn’t change the fact that ISIS says it is at war with us; it has launched a “terrorist attack” against America, and we need to destroy it.

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