President Barack Obama on Wednesday condemned the killing of American journalist James Foley by militants associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, saying that “the entire world is appalled” by the incident.
Speaking from Martha’s Vineyard, where he and his family are vacationing, Obama said he had spoken to Foley’s family earlier Wednesday and had conveyed that Americans “are all heartbroken at their loss and join them in honoring Jim.”
For a president who’s been trying to explain to this country and the rest of the world why he reluctantly went forward with air strikes in Iraq, Foley’s beheading became an important, high-profile reminder of what he’s trying to fight. Obama argued that the group is, as Foley’s mother put it earlier Wednesday, “just evil.”
“No just God would stand for what they did yesterday,” Obama said. “ISIL has no ideology of value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt.”
Obama’s message Wednesday was the most extensive condemnation of ISIL since U.S. military activity began two weeks ago in an effort to protect Americans in Erbil and help the Yazidi population escape the advancing ISIL militants.
At the same time, the president has faced push-back from an American public — and many in his own White House — weary of war and deeply opposed to getting drawn back into Iraq. And while Obama has repeatedly rejected the idea of mission creep, he’s done so as he’s continued to escalate the presence of Americans and the use of American force.
Asked Monday about that danger, Obama pointed to the collaborative efforts between Kurdish and Iraqi forces that led to the retaking of the Mosul Dam, then dangled what’s clearly a huge “if,” given the last decade of divisions in Iraq. “If we have effective partners on the ground, mission creep is much less likely,” Obama said.
Wednesday, though, Obama made no specific commitments toward any action, new or continued.
Airstrikes have been ongoing in Iraq — 14 more since the video was released Tuesday, the U.S. Central Command announced shortly after Obama finished speaking, bringing the total to 84. Just Monday, the president announced the successful retaking of the Mosul Dam.
But the political and military problems that kept Obama from ultimately authorizing military action against Syria last year remain, with the added dilemma that the resistance there is that much weaker and ISIL has grown that much stronger.
Unlike the gassing of Syrian civilians last year, ISIL’s killing an American journalist — with another American held up under threat of being next in the same video — clearly galvanized the conversation for Obama, and, he urged, for everyone else.
“Let’s be clear about ISIL,” Obama said Wednesday. “They have rampaged across cities and villages killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence. They abduct women and children and subject them to torture and rape and slavery. They have murdered Muslims, both Sunni and Shi’a, by the thousands. They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes, murdering them when they can, for no other reason than they practice a different religion.