The last few months a consulting job in the Chicago suburbs has taken me out of my writing rhythm. At the same time my Miami-Chicago commute has me traveling the Sotloff-Foley axis. In South Florida, where Steven Sotloff’s family are prominent in the Jewish community, his grim fate is the subject that most engages the man and woman in the street. In greater Chicagoland the talk is of James Foley, who was an alumnus of Northwestern University. The beheadings of these two journalists by the murderous band known as ISIS have sparked a fierce debate over the level of response such barbarism should draw. In my travels I hear passionate presentations by the advocates of the vying views.
There is a far-left approach that argues for no action to be taken at all. Our behavior should be dictated by our own conscience, not by provocateurs goading us into radical reactions. We should protect our citizens to the extent possible but retaliation in the form of violence is never warranted by the brutality of those who do not share our enlightenment.
Those opinions can be dismissed as representing the conscientious objector approach to life, one we always tolerated in our society even when we drafted citizens into the army. The population who fit this category was never a significant percentage of the population.
The two mainstream positions agree that retribution in some form is in place. The Republicans argue for a warlike campaign against ISIS designed to seek and destroy the organization and its bloodthirsty adherents. However, most Democrats in public office are stressing that the goal is to bring the person or persons who performed the beheadings to justice. I heard one interview with Illinois Senator Richard Durbin where he was gleefully crowing about our superior “human intelligence” that will enable us to identify the guy who actually performed the executions.
His first premise strikes me as absurd in itself. You want us to believe that our CIA is running a host of double agents inside ISIS all supplying us with a fund of trustworthy intelligence, all blithely fearless in serving American masters in the midst of the carnage? Color me skeptic but I do not buy that for one second. If indeed there are “infiltrators” reporting to our guys, they are likely to be manipulators who are playing us and plying us with pre-approved pre-packaged material.
But even granting Durbin’s premise, we encounter an absurd position that is as great an affront to true justice as it is to logic. He would have us limit the consequences to ISIS for beheading our people, treating these killings as individual criminal acts. Catch the guy who did it and put him on trial, perhaps give him the death penalty, and the case is closed. Doesn’t this miss the larger point that the organization as a unit, as a conspiracy, initiated this act and that there were thousands more waiting behind this executioner for the privilege of carrying out the “sentence” of these infidels?
Now we cannot hold Durbin and his friends solely responsible for this kind of shallow thinking. After all, our country and Great Britain did the same thing when the government of Libya under Qaddafi blew up a passenger plane in Locherbie, Scotland. We took the three guys in the intelligence services who managed the operation and we put them in jail and we were satisfied. It was ridiculous then, but the patina of legitimacy Libya retained as a UN-member state saved it from being seen as an intrinsically terrorist entity. But now we should be able to see how ridiculous this principle is when applied to the goons and thugs of ISIS.
Now I have finally come up with the argument to trump the other side in debate. I ask a simple question that gets to the heart of the deeper issue. After all, these are suicide fighters in any case. So what if they had the executioner surrender to the United States after each beheading? Or what if someone on the video pronounced the executioner guilty of a war crime and shot him on the spot? Do we no longer have a war against the group if they concede the arrest and/or execution of the man behind the guillotine?
This proves our point. The particular guy who pulls the trigger or slashes the throat is largely irrelevant. The killers are a movement and the killings are done by the entire movement. They are all guilty and we as a nation must use the civilized craft of war to overwhelm the barbaric craft of terrorism.