For the second time in two weeks the world has been shocked by the sight of an American journalist being beheaded on video by what appears to be a British Islamist. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, hold an unknown number of western hostages and now we know what they plan to do with them – brutally murder them as a propaganda tool. It’s time for the US government to make it clear in the strongest way possible that this isn’t and never will be acceptable, and that means using our military to strike at ISIS. This is no time for “surgical” strikes either. There are good arguments for minimizing “collateral damage” when fighting a real nation state – why kill innocent citizens for the actions of their leaders? – but none of them apply here. ISIS isn’t a nation state; it’s a gang, and everyone who’s in that gang joined it voluntarily. Most of them even traveled to Syria specifically to join. There’s no need to use precision weapons against ISIS troops and positions – a B52 is accurate enough.
The problem is there doesn’t seem to be the will to deliver the blows we need to be landing. Barack Obama’s comment of “We don’t have a strategy yet” might have looked like a slip of the tongue, but in the days since we’ve found out it was nothing but the truth – he really doesn’t have a strategy. That’s bad enough when it’s applied to air strikes, but what’s worse is that there doesn’t seem to be any plan on what to do about American jihadis returning home from Iraq or Syria.
Britain’s conservative prime minister David Cameron is now taking action on this issue. The UK has a bigger problem with radical islamists than the USA does, but by taking a hard line they’re likely to end up in better shape than we are. The British policy is two-pronged and aims to tackle both of the issues caused by jihad tourism. The first is that foreign terrorists joining ISIS makes life worse for the Syrian and Iraqi people; it increases the danger to westerners in and around the region; and it makes our countries look bad that we can’t sort these maniacs out. By making it easier to confiscate passports from wannabe jihadis Cameron aims to slow the flow to a trickle.
The second part of the plan is the most important. Once extremists get to ISIS they’re going to pick up terrorist training and become even more dangerous than they are already – so the aim should be to make sure they don’t come back. The Brits are planning to stop jihadis returning from the Middle East and are looking into ways to strip them of their citizenship. We often think the British are hopeless liberals, but they don’t seem to care much if their less loyal citizens get killed out there.
And that’s something else we as Americans need to come to terms with. There were protests – even from some on the right – when Anwar al-Awlaki and his son got themselves killed by a Hellfire strike in Yemen. Sorry, folks, but if an American citizen is in an al-Qaida camp when our air force bomb it that’s not an unconstitutional execution. Nobody made the al-Awlakis join al-Qaida and nobody made them go to that camp. We need to recognize that the protection afforded by a US passport ends the moment you join our enemies and start plotting to attack us. It’s time to follow the British example and start working to make sure the US citizens doing jihad with ISIS never come home alive.