August 20 2014

President Obama's Disappointing Remarks on the Beheading of an American

Charlotte Hays

President Obama—who has taken to issuing semi-daily communiqués during his optics-unfriendly vacation on Martha’s Vineyard—made perhaps the most inadequate of his recent spate of underwhelming statements today.

The occasion for the president’s remarks was the beheading of American photojournalist James Foley by the monsters of ISIS. ISIS produced a video of the beheading.

Tim Rogan described the video this way on National Review Online:

The video, entitled “A Message to America,” begins with President Obama’s announcement of military operations against ISIS. It then transitions to a sandy hilltop, where James Foley kneels before a man in black coveralls and a full black mask. Foley is wearing an orange jumpsuit and begins to read a forced message: He is made to tell us that “he died” the day that America intervened against the Islamic State. He’s made to blame his brother, a U.S. Air Force serviceman, and President Obama for his looming death. He’s made to state that he wishes he had “more time” and “the hope of freedom” (the Islamic State revels in teasing its prisoners with lost hope) to see his family again. Foley is made to say that he wishes he “wasn’t an American.”

Then, waving a knife, in a British accent dripping with hatred, the ISIS fanatic speaks.

Then, waving a knife, in a British accent dripping with hatred, the ISIS fanatic speaks.

He complains about American interference in Iraq. He claims that the Islamic State represents all Muslims and thus possesses inherent moral sovereignty.

He then beheads Mr. Foley.

We see Foley’s decapitated head sitting upon his handcuffed torso.

Noah Rothman wrote shortly before the president’s speech that the beheading was so shocking hat “everything has changed after the execution of James Foley by ISIS.” Rothman wrote:

In the U.K., Prime Minister David Cameron, too, announced his intention to end his vacation early and return to London after pressure mounted on him to recall Parliament for an emergency session aimed at crafting a plan to confront the threat posed by ISIS.

The language Americans are using to describe the ISIS threat has also changed. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a 2016 hopeful who has positioned himself as among the hawkish in the field of GOP presidential aspirants, minced no words in his statement on Foley’s execution.

Not everything has changed. The American president hasn’t changed. Appearing without a tie, the president said that the beheading had “shocked the conscience of the world” and then said some bad things about ISIS. But his words showed an alarming disconnect about ISIS.

He said that “people like this (ISIS) ultimately fail”—but when will they fail? A century? A half century? And what will they do to us before they fail? 

Then the president employed one of the administration's favorite digs: he said that ISIS “has no place in the 21st century.” But here they are—in the twenty-first century. 

This is reminiscent of Secretary of State John Kerry’s saying that Vladimir Putin plays by nineteenth century rules. I can't remember whether Kerry said that before or after Putin took a nice juicy bite of Crimea.

The president’s most alarming observation about ISIS, however, was this: He said that ISIS “may claim out of expedience that they are at war with the West,” but they are really more engaged in terrorizing their neighbors. Good grief—does President Obama really believe that ISIS is not at war with the West? If he believes this, we have reasons to fear for our future.

In what should be a Guinness-level understatement, President Obama asked us to “keep in our prayers those other Americans who are separated from their families.”

This appears to be an allusion to Steven Sotloff, another American captive of ISIS. Separated from his family doesn't quite capture the gravity of Sotloff's predicament. ISIS introduced him on the video shortly after James Foley's death, with the implication that, if President Obama doesn’t pull back on airstrikes, Sotloff will be next.

KT McFarland had a better reaction to James Foley’s beheading than the president. She said on Fox, “The gates of Hell are open and the hell hounds are released.”

A former Reagan administration State Department official, McFarland made it clear that there is no place for American “boots on the ground” but that we have to do our utmost to support “sandals in the sand.”  She called the Kurds the “Navy Seals of the Middle East” and urged arming them to the teeth.

The president made no mention of any policies. But never mind. ISIS is doomed to failure! He said:

And people like this ultimately fail. They fail because the future is won by those who build and not destroy, and the world is shaped by people like Jim Foley and the overwhelming majority of humanity who are appalled by those who killed him.

The United States of America will continue to do what we must do to protect our people. We will be vigilant and we will be relentless. When people harm Americans, anywhere, we do what's necessary to see that justice is done.

But the president gives us no reason to believe that this is any truer of ISIS than it was of the terrorists who killed four American in Benghazi. Only one of them has been brought to the U.S., and we have yet to know the fate of the Mirandized terrorist. But to get back to the president's words:

And we act against ISIL standing alongside others. The people of Iraq who, with our support, are taking the fight to ISIL, must continue coming together to expel these terrorists from their communities. The people of Syria, whose story Jim Foley told, do not deserve to live under the shadow of a tyrant or terrorists. They have our support in their pursuit of a future rooted in dignity.

From governments and peoples across the Middle East, there has to be a common effort to extract this cancer so that it does not spread. There has to be a clear rejection of these kinds of nihilistic ideologies.

Let’s hope that President Obama is more able to confront these monsters than his words this afternoon lead me to believe. He also should have put on a tie. Looks more serious.

 

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