Beheading, Baiting, Backfiring

by Dish Staff

In response to ISIS’s brutal murder of American journalist Steven Sotloff in a video released yesterday, the Obama administration is vowing justice for both Sotloff’s death and that of James Foley, with Obama announcing in Estonia this morning that “we will not be intimidated” and “justice will be served”. Bearing in mind that these atrocities against Americans makes an escalated US military operation against ISIS more likely, not less, Keating wonders what the group expects to accomplish by killing these hostages:

ISIS may be ruthless and fanatical, but it would be impossible to expand as quickly as it has thus far without an understanding of strategy. The group’s leaders surely know that they are likely drawing the U.S. military further into this conflict and believe this is to their advantage. Kurdish and Iraqi forces, with help from the U.S. and Iran, seem to be rolling back ISIS’s territorial gains in Iraq, so the group’s best hope of remaining a viable and prominent militant group may be to go underground and continue to inflict terror on its enemies. And those enemies aren’t just American. ISIS also recently released videos showing the beheading of a Kurdish peshmerga fighter and a Lebanese soldier. Hopefully this strategy will backfire before any more hostages are killed.

He follows up with some speculative answers, including the possibility that ISIS really thinks it can deter the US:

ISIS may believe that it can continue to demonstrate that it can strike the U.S. by executing these prisoners, and that the U.S. isn’t going to do anything about it. If this really is their thinking, they don’t have a very good grasp of history. Americans are traditionally reluctant to go to war right up until they do. Saddam Hussein didn’t think the U.S. would really attack him either.

Shane Harris and Kate Brannen suspect that by threatening to kill a British hostage, the jihadists are baiting the UK into getting involved militarily:

At the end of the Sotloff video, the killer threatens to execute another captive, who, the killer claims, is British citizen David Cawthorne Haines. That claim couldn’t be immediately verified. But if true, it would show that the Islamic State is broadening its terrorism campaign to include British civilians, a move that could well prompt a military response by the United Kingdom. This week, British Prime Minister David Cameron said he is weighing whether to join the United States in carrying out airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq, and potentially in Syria. Without naming Cameron specifically, Sotloff’s killer warns “governments that enter this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State to back off and leave our people alone.” That threat seemed timed to coincide with deliberations in London.

Jamie Dettmer argues against suppressing reporting about ISIS hostages, saying it only amplifies the value of these videos:

Openness would take away some of the control the jihadists have to administer shock as they go on killing. The U.S. and U.K. with their blackouts are handing ISIS the propaganda initiative, leaving it to the jihadists to decide when captives should be named, allowing them to add to the drama of the unveiling when they first threaten hostages with execution on camera and then carrying out the brutal deed. At least this power of naming could be taken from the jihadists, who already are in the position to taunt their foes and turn their slaughtering of Westerners into a global spectacle.

But Dexter Filkins asks whether ISIS’s snuff films are about something other than propaganda:

It’s hard to watch the video of Steven Sotloff’s last moments and not conclude … the ostensible objective of securing an Islamic state is nowhere near as important as killing people. For the guys who signed up for ISIS—including, especially, the masked man with the English accent who wielded the knife—killing is the real point of being there. Last month, when ISIS forces overran a Syrian Army base in the city of Raqqa, they beheaded dozens of soldiers and displayed their trophies on bloody spikes. “Here are heads that have ripened, that were ready for the plucking,” an ISIS fighter said in narration. Two soldiers were crucified. This sounds less like a battle than like some kind of macabre party.