ISIS beheads second American journalist — sends ‘second message to America’

NBC News reports: The Islamic militant group ISIS beheaded Steven Joel Sotloff, an American freelance journalist who was abducted a year ago in Syria, in a video made public Tuesday by a jihadist monitoring organization.

The monitoring organization, SITE Intel Group, announced on Twitter that Sotloff had been beheaded. It said that ISIS had also threatened to execute a British captive, David Cawthorne Haines.

The video, titled “A Second Message to America,” opens with a clip of President Barack Obama speaking after ISIS beheaded another American journalist, James Foley, last month. Obama vowed in those remarks to be “relentless” when Americans are harmed.

The video then shows Sotloff, wearing an orange jump suit and kneeling, in a sparse desert landscape, next to a black-clad ISIS fighter — a replica of the conditions in the video in which Foley was beheaded.

Speaking to the camera, Sotloff questions U.S. intervention in the Middle East and blames Obama for “marching us, the American people, into a blazing fire.”

The ISIS fighter then blames Obama for an “arrogant foreign policy towards Islamic State” and for refusing to heed ISIS’s warnings and end military strikes.

Those Middle-East watchers in the West who suffer from the affliction of seeing America at the center of all things, will be inclined to persist in their interpretation that ISIS is trying to goad the U.S. into stronger military intervention in Iraq.

This strikes me as a gross misreading of events — and it misrepresents the timeline.

U.S. airstrikes in Iraq started before James Foley was murdered. At that time, Foley’s killer — while holding Sotloff — warned: “The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision.”

The airstrikes continued and ISIS has now carried through on that threat.

And as ISIS now says that Obama is marching the American people into a blazing fire, the jihadists are again saying: back off.

Much as ISIS’s fighters and jihadists in general are widely perceived as being driven by a desire for martyrdom, it is ISIS’s success in laying the foundations for its own state and in the swift expansion of this state, that is the driving force behind the movement’s growth.

ISIS wants to be seen as an unstoppable force and the battles it loses and the retreats it is forced to make, will weaken that image.

If there’s a credible alternative to using military force against ISIS, I have yet to see it.

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3 thoughts on “ISIS beheads second American journalist — sends ‘second message to America’

  1. Paul Woodward Post author

    It’s certainly true that the effectiveness of conventional terrorism hinges on its ability to exploit media attention. It’s also true that ISIS has an interest in shaping public opinion. However, it’s a mistake — I think — to imagine that ISIS is simply interested in the shock value of its actions. If it simply wanted to shock, then yes, the media could reasonably be accused of playing into ISIS’s hands.

    But ISIS isn’t a conventional terrorist organization trying to expand its small footprint by creating a lot of attention. It is an army, an embryonic state, and it has carefully developed strategic objectives.

    Media coverage of the murder of Steven Sotloff and before him James Foley, should involve serious discussion about what ISIS is trying to accomplish.

    The coverage is not too big — it’s typically too superficial.

    The message from ISIS to the US and its allies is very clear: “back off and leave our people alone.”

    Some critics of Western governments might feel that these governments should accede to ISIS’s demand. It’s hardly a coincidence, though, that this anti-interventionist approach is favored by people whose own lives are not threatened by ISIS.

  2. Syd

    It’s hardly a coincidence, though, that this anti-interventionist approach is favored by people whose own lives are not threatened by ISIS.

    Since none of us are in any immediate danger, having an opinion on either side of the hawk/dove divide does not require much courage.

    What astonishes me is that the hawks — and by this I mean the people who advocate rolling back ISIS, not just containing it — feel no need to come up with a specific plan as to how this is to be done. Article after article on this website recommends that America should arm some mythical “moderate” force — even though our intelligence agencies conclude that this can’t be done. The FSA is too small, too disorganized and untrustworthy. (The NY Times reported that these moderates are now beheading prisoners too.)

    I’m not a fan of Obama, but he’s not a dumb man. He doesn’t have a strategy because there is no strategy to have. All the military options at the moment are short-term fixes. We can become the air force for the Kurds, the Shia militias, Al Qaeda/Nusrah and Assad. Those are the only effective proxies we have to work with. Helping them win with a massive bombing campaign is not going to moderate Sunni opinion.

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