James Foley death: Eradicating the evil of Isis

Much can be done to rid the world of the Islamist terrorists that stops short of ‘boots on the ground’

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The video of the beheading of the American journalist James Foley by Islamic extremists simply reinforces a self-evident truth. Isis and the other militant groups operating in Syria and Iraq must be eradicated.

Expressing the civilised world’s horror and outrage at the bestial incident, President Obama spoke this week of “a cancer” that threatens the entire Middle East. However, this is not a question of preserving old colonial boundaries and various less-than-admirable regimes in the region. What we are dealing with is an explicit war against America and the West. The present sway of the self-described caliphate may not run beyond parts of north-eastern Syria and northern and western Iraq. But the organisation is a seed-bed for terror against the West, and the hundreds, if not thousands of foreign fighters who have flocked to it would like nothing more than to bring such terror back to their home countries – Britain, the US and elsewhere – on a scale that could eclipse even 9/11.

The question is, how are we to achieve eradication? First, there must be no bargaining with the fanatics, who are currently holding probably dozens of hostages. America has understood this, having rejected, according to media reports, ransom requests from the militants, and having attempted instead a military raid to free some of those held. The raid failed, proof of how difficult are such targeted operations like President Carter’s abortive mission to rescue the Tehran embassy hostages in 1980, or the multiple attempts to kill Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan before and after 9/11. But, heartless as it may sound to say so, such efforts should go no further.

Paying ransom is merely to strengthen the enemy, giving him a sense of leverage over his opponents and increasing his appetite for more of the same. Equally, it must be noted that the fate that befell James Foley, by all accounts an extraordinarily brave and generous-spirited man, has long been a known risk for those Westerners – journalists, aid-workers and others – who have ventured into territories where  extremists flourish.

 

Back in 2002, the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was similarly murdered by al-Qa’ida in Pakistan; his beheading was filmed and released to the West, as was the execution of the young American engineer Nicholas Berg two years later in Iraq – revenge, it was claimed by his killers, for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

It is possible that in the region where it happened, the murder of Mr Foley may be counterproductive. The British accent of the masked executioner not only strikes a horrifically familiar note in his country of origin. It might also be a sign that such deeds are too much even for local militants, and are best left to foreigners, even more fanatical believers in the cause. In short, the murder may help alienate the extremists in the territories where they now operate.

But we cannot wait to see if that proposition is correct. Robust and concerted action by the Western allies is essential, now. Rightly there is scant public support, even in the US, for “boots on the ground”, in other words a conventional military invasion. The last thing Iraq or anywhere else needs is a repeat of 2003. But if air strikes and the arming of the Kurds and other opponents of Isis and its allies are not enough to do the job, then special forces should be aggressively employed as well.

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