The gruesome images of the beheading of James Foley will only add to growing domestic political pressure for President Barack Obama to escalate military action in Iraq and possibly widen it into Syria.
As is often the case, past events shed light on what might happen in the days to come. Indeed, this video – its style, content and message – is strikingly similar to those that emerged from Iraq in the last few years.
Indeed, just over a decade ago, the American public jarringly came to terms with the mixed implications of the use of YouTube when it carried the video of the beheading of American Nick Berg in Iraq on May 11, 2004. The killing of Mr Berg led to a wave of revulsion in the United States and briefly appeared to threaten President George W Bush’s re-election campaign.
In May 2004, Bush’s approval ratings briefly fell to about 41 per cent, a number remarkably similar to Barack Obama’s current standing as he approaches mid-term elections in November.
Furthermore, in 2004, Iraq was in the grip of a militant campaign led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in the aftermath of the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad in August 2003. The first battle of Fallujah between Sunni militants and American troops was drawing to an uneasy close at the beginning of May.
An upsurge in violence in Iraq in the mid-2000s – that ultimately led to Zarqawi’s death by a drone strike – was epitomised by ever more frequent car bombings, with Iraqi civilians and government employees as their primary targets. It was an orgy of bloodshed that began to ease off only after the surge of American troops into the country during 2007.
Unlike during the 2000s, though, it is improbable that the murder of Mr Foley will lead Mr Obama to re-introduce ground troops. After all, his 2012 re-election campaign was partially built on the delivery of almost complete American withdrawal by December 2011.
Instead, it is more likely that the killing of Mr Foley will lead America to double down on its current policy of air strikes and possibly even widen its remit, as US Senator John McCain has suggested, to encompass Syria. This comes at a time when Mr Obama’s foreign policy has come under criticism even from fellow Democrat, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In the longer term, however, it will serve to increase pressure on Mr Obama to assume a tougher posture against acts of this sort, especially in light of the fact that Americans seem to be increasingly of the belief that the US has a responsibility to ‘do something’ about the violence.
It is imperative that Mr Foley’s murder does not weaken the resolve of those who are challenging Isis’ designs on subordinating much of the Middle East region to the rule of a dictatorial Caliphate.
A robust regional reaction to their continued crimes is also absolutely necessary. States such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia must jettison their heretofore lukewarm or even supportive attitudes to the militants and take a more active role in fighting them.
Such a shift is essential for challenging the patently false Islamist narrative that the struggle involves a “crusading West” attacking the Muslim world. Indeed, most of IS’s victims are Muslims.
It’s high time that regional powers recognise this and take responsibility for the Middle East by adopting an intransigent stance against Isis.
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