The Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot, has released a grisly video of one of its fighters beheading a man who appears to be James Foley, an American journalist who was kidnapped in Syria on Thanksgiving Day 2012. The images from the video are horrifying, as they are intended to be. The Islamic State is once again trying to intimidate its adversaries, in this case the United States, into submission.
The video begins with clips of President Obama explaining his decision to authorize airstrikes. It then cuts to footage of the Islamic State’s victim, apparently Foley, who is forced to read a statement. Foley claims that his pending death is the result of American airstrikes in Iraq and he implores his brother, who serves in the U.S. Air Force, to renounce his service. Foley himself is made to say that he wishes he was not an American.
The Islamic State butcher who kills Foley speaks fluent English and threatens to kill another American journalist held in captivity, Steven Joel Sotloff, if America does not halt its aerial campaign.
Foley's death has not been confirmed by the U.S. government.
What are we to make of these gruesome images?
Our first thoughts are, of course, with the friends and family of James Foley. Their son has now been made part of a vicious jihadist play, one that is intended to frighten all of us.
Indeed, the Islamic State wants to shock the U.S. government into inaction. At one point in the video, the Islamic State fighter, who refuses to show his face, claims that America has done everything in its power to thwart the Islamic State’s designs. This far from the truth, as America has largely sat out both the war in Syria, as well as the ongoing conflict in Iraq, since late 2011. But now that the U.S. has finally acted in a meaningful way, the Islamic State has been forced to use a crude tactic in an attempt to make the U.S. stand down. In that regard, the video demonstrates the efficacy of America’s recent airstrikes.
No, American bombs are not enough to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq, which is effectively fighting on multiple fronts. But they have slowed the group’s momentum in some areas. If the strikes were pointless, then the Islamic State would not have bothered with this propaganda ploy. Undoubtedly, Iraqi lives and perhaps Americans, including diplomats, have been saved because U.S. bombers turned back the Islamic State’s fighters in some locations.
Foley’s death is tragic. And we should always remember that countless Iraqis and Syrians have met the same fate at the Islamic State’s hands.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.