There are no words to describe how horrifying the video is. A black clad ISIS fighter is holding a small knife, waving it in view of a recording camera while standing next to a kneeling American journalist draped in orange with his arms restrained behind his back. The kneeling man is then murdered in probably the most horrific way possible. For as awful as all of the previous images of beheadings, mass executions and other scenes of slaughter coming out of Syria and Iraq over the past year have been, this one seemed to strike home in America. This was one of us that was being murdered, and as much as you didn’t want to see the photo of the crime, I know I found myself staring at James Foley and thinking “My God, what is that poor man thinking?”
I’m sure when his captors draped him in orange, he knew this was it. His time was up. Mocked by being clad in orange, like the inmates at Guantanamo, other U.S. and foreign captives had worn similar outfits prior to their own murder. For whatever reason, I’m sure he knew what was about to happen. He reveals as much in his last statements, wishing he had more time with his family. It’s heartbreaking and enraging that one person could do that to another, but it reveals much about the threat we face overseas and here at home.
We now face a threat that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel calls “beyond anything we have seen.” ISIS, (or ISIL, or whatever they may be called) make Al Qaeda, Hamas, other terror groups (as well as the Nazis) look like the “junior varsity” of thugs. Death – and a violent one – is the ultimate badge of courage. When ideology calls violent acts justification for a quick pass to paradise, there is no negotiating tactic that will work to help them see another path.
While barbaric, ISIS is media savvy and intelligent, and it is a mistake to underestimate them in these areas, as it was their military effectiveness in seizing oil fields, critical infrastructure and other land in Syria and Iraq. The released video of the Foley murder is well produced and communicates to a multitude of audiences with brutal effectiveness. From the imposed graphics and messages, professional editing and music, to the English-speaking voice of the executioner, they have turned their camera footage, imagery and words into a ruthless tactical weapon. If we could speak to him from his personal cauldron in Hell, I’m sure Nazi propaganda master Joseph Goebbels would be impressed.
As war weary Americans, the hard and painful fact for us to accept is that we are in a multi-generational conflict against terrorists forces that think in terms of centuries. This is something military, intelligence, and other security analysts have written and spoken about for over two decades.
For as much as the President and some of his senior advisors may want to believe in hard and fast timetables, there are no scheduled dates of when a conflict of this type ends. Nor will this conflict follow the conventions of war that we have long subscribed. The fights in Afghanistan and Iraq have already revealed that evolution in tactics and carnage. Just when you think the fighting and the tactics cannot reach a more sickening level, along comes a group like ISIS to show just how awful portions of humanity can become.
The battle unfolding before us has been unfolding since long before 9/11. Look at the evolution of this horror. From the attack on the USS Cole, the African Embassy bombings, and many other events before and after those acts, this cancer of militant extremism is growing. President Obama may think that Afghanistan, Iraq or any area in this region can all be wrapped up by a circled date on a calendar, set entirely by a political campaign, but pandering rhetoric is a gross dereliction of leadership and his Constitutional responsibilities. We are no longer in that environment, nor can we afford it and to think otherwise is like being an ostrich, putting your head in the ground and thinking (and hoping and praying) that all of this will all go away. From what I’ve watched and listened to over the past weeks and months, the President is ignoring that reality. He has to begin leading in a violent world, and it’s not the one he wishes it to be nor the one his campaign pledged to fulfill.
Sec. Hagel and the Chair of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey have already been crystal clear in their warnings about this threat. In the coming days, we need to hear from DHS Sec. Jeh Johnson and others in the homeland and national security community at all levels about “seeing something and saying something.” We don’t need to hear them generating fear or panic. That’s not the goal of talking about this landscape. We need our leaders to trash the polished, blow-dried talking points and speak candidly about preparedness, resiliency and what we all need to do to look out for one another and our communities.
Today, radicalization is spreading, and religious, civic, and cultural leaders on every continent have a responsibility to step forward to address it. Sadly, those voices don’t seem to be as loud or as savvy as the video that we all saw last week and wished had never captured what it did. We can all aspire for a better world, but if we don’t do the things to address its needs, we should not be surprised when it burns down on our watch.
We are in that condition today. That’s not a political swipe either. It’s the scary reality we face, and we cannot afford to ignore it.