August 20, 2014
ISIS Execution: A Brutal “Message to America”
What is ISIS’s motive for this killing?
FI: The most obvious one would be as a desperate act to shape US policy. And, I anticipate they will kill the second journalist they hold, Steven Sotloff as well, if they haven’t already. Past executions fit within a set of belief, ideologies, and rules—such as, those who they see as helping the regime, resisting ISIS, or spying or breaking the law. But, James Foley wasn’t killed because he had done anything. He was killed for purely messaging purposes.
What message was that?
FI: It most likely was meant to drive recruitment and to project a sense of control, confidence, and power—as well as to deter further US military action. Whether or not such a brutal act will in fact help their recruitment efforts remains to be seen.
What kind of impact do you expect this to have on US policy?
FI: I don’t think this will have any impact. To the president’s credit, in his speech this afternoon condemning the beheading, he continued to criticize Assad and the Islamic State equally. In other words, even in the face of this brutality, he still rejects the possibility of partnering in Syria with the Assad regime to battle ISIS—something that [foreign policy columnists] Fareed Zakaria and Tom Friedman have backed.
And what is likely to result?
FI: It’s unclear how Americans will respond to this. Will they want to become more involved on the ground to eliminate the ISIS threat, or will it make Americans want to leave the country even more? Ten years ago, I’d have said that Americans would want to get more involved—but now, the mood is different.