ISIS has declared war. Now what?

How can leaders of the most civilized, powerful nations in the world not yet have a solid plan?

While governments fail to act or make attempts at cobbling together a plan of action against a well organized, well funded, vicious and ambitious irregular army hellbent on wreaking chaos and destruction to take over the world, it’s the religious leaders and scholars and humanitarian relief experts who are speaking out and doing the most to call for action, care for people and protect populations from genocide in the meantime.

Princeton Professor Robert George has been one of the foremost, gaining a lot of attention and support for his Plea on Behalf of Victims of Barbarism in Iraq. It’s the backdrop for his grassroots Iraq Rescue effort.

The so-called Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS/ISIL) is conducting a campaign of genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and others in Iraq. In its fanatical effort to establish a caliphate, ISIS/ISIL has engaged in crimes against humanity by deliberately causing mass starvation and dehydration, and by committing unconscionable acts of barbarism against noncombatants, including defenseless women, children, and elderly persons.

It is imperative that the United States and the international community act immediately and decisively to stop the ISIS/ISIL genocide and prevent the further victimization of religious minorities. This goal cannot be achieved apart from the use of military force to degrade and disable ISIS/ISIL forces. President Obama was right to order airstrikes against ISIS/ISIL to stop its advance on key cities, as well as to provide humanitarian assistance to people fleeing their assaults. Much more needs to be done, however, and there is no time to waste.

We, the undersigned, are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. We are conservatives, liberals, and moderates. We represent various religious traditions and shades of belief. None of us glorifies war or underestimates the risks entailed by the use of military force. Where non-military means of resolving disputes and protecting human rights are available, we always and strongly favor those means. However, the evidence is overwhelming that such means will not be capable of protecting the victims of the genocide already unfolding at the hands of ISIS/ISIL. That is why Iraq’s Chaldean Patriarch Sako has requested military intervention.

Therefore we call upon the United States and the international community to do everything necessary to empower local forces fighting ISIS/ISIL in Iraq to protect their people. No options that are consistent with the principles of just war doctrine should be off the table. We further believe that the United States’ goal must be more comprehensive than simply clamping a short-term lid on the boiling violence that is threatening so many innocents in ISIS/ISIL’s path. Nothing short of the destruction of ISIS/ISIL as a fighting force will provide long-term protection of victims.

We call upon President Obama and the Congress of the United States to expand airstrikes against ISIS/ISIL with a view to eroding its military power, and to provide full air support for Kurdish and other forces fighting against ISIS/ISIL. Further, we endorse the Washington Post’s call for the United States to provide arms, ammunition, and equipment to Kurdish forces, Sunni tribesmen, and others who are currently hampered in their ability to fight ISIS/ISIL by a lack of sophisticated weapons and other resources. The U.S. should also assist with intelligence. We are hopeful that local forces, with adequate support and assistance from the U.S. and the international community, can defeat ISIS/ISIL.

The expansion of humanitarian aid to the displaced and fleeing is also urgent. Local churches and aid agencies are overwhelmed, and we have grave concerns about how these victims of violent religious persecution will be cared for this winter. The U.S. can and should take the lead in providing food, water, medicine, and other essential supplies.

It’s a comprehensive call to action in what Prof. George told me on radio this week is the conflict with a force “more formidable than any enemy” we have known in our lifetimes. “They are better funded, better organized, better armed and more brutal than Al Qaeda,” he said. “The mistake members of government, both liberals and conservatives, are making is thinking this is an Eighth Century movement of barbaric, Dark Ages murderers. They are far more modernized and organized and therefore dangerous then that.”

Prof. George’s petition went on:

We must be mindful that in addition to stopping the genocide, the U.S. and Europe have very concrete interests in disabling ISIS/ISIL. As the Washington Post has warned:

“The Islamic State forces, which have captured large numbers of U.S.-supplied heavy weapons, threaten not only the Iraqi and Kurdish governments, but also Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. With hundreds of Western recruits, they have the ambition and capability to launch attacks against targets in Europe and the United States.”

It is also worth bearing in mind that our own nation is not without responsibility for the plight of victims of ISIS/ISIL genocide. What is happening to these people now, and the further threats they face, would not be happening but for errors and failures of our nation’s own in Iraq. This can and should be acknowledged by all, despite disagreements we may have among ourselves as to precisely what these errors and failures were, and which political and military leaders are mainly responsible for them. The point is not to point fingers or apportion blame, but to recognize that justice as well as compassion demands that we take the steps necessary to end the ISIL/ISIS campaign of genocide and protect those who are its victims.

It is key to stop politicizing this and work together to stop it. Everyone who has a sense of what the civilized world is up against is saying the same thing.

Then, as the world knew immediately, early in the week, the second beheading of an American journalist was carried out, videotaped, and posted for the world to see, taunting the West and especially the US.

A new video appears to show the execution of Steven Sotloff, the second American killed by a self-professed member of the Islamist terror group ISIS.

In the video, which appeared online [Tuesday] Sotloff addresses the camera, saying, “I’m sure you know exactly who I am by now and why I am appearing.”

“Obama, your foreign policy of intervention in Iraq was supposed to be for preservation of American lives and interests, so why is it that I am paying the price of your interference with my life?” the journalist says calmly as the black clad militant holds a knife casually at his side.

Later the video then cuts to the militant who says, “I’m back, Obama. I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State [ISIS].”

“… [J]ust as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people,” the figure says.

The camera cuts again and the militant appears to kill Sotloff.

Horrifying as it was, the news got far less media coverage than the beheading of James Foley, just days ago. There’s no reason for that. The execution of Sotloff was just as brutal and inhumane, and it was another provocation to the US, another declaration of war with such a globally visible murder of an innocent American journalist.

Here’s what a lot of people may have missed, since media gave the execution less attention.

Speaking at a press conference in Florida, Sotloff family spokesman Barak Barfi said that Steven “wanted to give voice to those who had none”…

“From the Libyan doctor in Misrata who struggled to provide psychological services to children ravaged by war, to the Syrian plumber who risked his life by crossing regime lines to purchase medicine, their story was Steve’s story. He ultimately sacrificed his life to bring their story to the world,” Mr Barfi said.

“Today we grieve but we will emerge stronger. We will not allow our enemies to hold us hostage with the sole weapon they possess: Fear.”…

Mr Obama said the US would build a coalition to “degrade and destroy” IS.

Where that stands got a little clearer now that he’s huddling with international leaders at the NATO summit.

But meanwhile, religious leaders and scholars continue to raise their voices with specific calls for action. The Vatican did, again.

And while Prof. Robert George’s Iraq Rescue petition is getting more attention, it calls for more signatures. Meanwhile, he’s warning anyone who will listen that the Islamic State will carry out “mass slaughter in the United States’ if it is not destroyed as a fighting force.

Princeton University professor Robert George warned Wednesday that the Islamic State will carry out “mass slaughter in the United States” if it is not soon “destroyed as a fighting force.”

“They have every intention of getting [to the United States], and these are people who achieve what they set out to achieve,” George said… “Unless somebody stops them, they make good on their threats. They have threatened to carry out activity in the United States — killing people, mass slaughter in the United States.”

“Believe me, I plead with you, I want your listeners to believe me — these people will do it if they can,” George continued. “And they will be able to do it unless we stop them.”

The Princeton professor described the Islamic State as “genocidal,” saying: “They mean to wipe out entire communities, and there is nothing they will stop short of when it comes to achieving their goal.”

“Our well-being, our security, our place in the world are vitally threatened by ISIS and ISIL,” he said. “They will stop at nothing … in order to destroy anyone standing in their way so that they can establish the caliphate.”

George advocated working with the international community to supply air support, as well as strategic and intelligence support, to Kurdish forces, Sunni tribesmen, and other local forces resisting the Islamic State. He also advocated airstrikes against Islamic State strongholds.

George said “we’re going to have to fight them eventually.” The only question is whether we do it in Iraq, or wait “until they’re carrying out terrorist activity within the United States.”

Prof. Robert George is not given to hyperbole. He is probably the most eminently reasonable scholar I know, or know of. These words issue a sober warning, from an expert who has served in various capacities on behalf of the U.S. on international commissions dealing with human rights and justice.

Congress returns at the beginning of the week, the week of 9/11, when many people predict a possible or likely attack on American soil again. The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch has renewed his plea to the United Nations, upping the intensity.

And the reminder that “the whole world’s watching” has been resounding. Only this time, with far greater stakes than at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago when student demonstrators started that chant. Prof. George and his bipartisan, interfaith, unified supporters declare there’s something much larger and far more dangerous at work now in the ISIS onslaught. And they ask for all people of goodwill to join the movement to stop it.

The coalition of the willing can sign on here.

ISIL intended to send a personal message to the US

It worked, though maybe not as that murderous gang expected.

They wanted to cower the US into backing off the already limited air strikes, humanitarian relief drops and rescue missions of refugees from their brutality. Did the horror of beheading a captive American journalist intimidate the US into backing off those strikes, as intended? Did the president end his vacation and return to the White House to monitor all operations going forward? No. No to both questions.

First, the president’s press conference on the state of affairs after this intimidation tactic.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama addressed the nation regarding the brutal slaying of an American journalist by Islamic State militants. After conducting that gruesome deed, James Wright Foley’s assassin warned the president that his organization planned to kill yet another American unless the West surrenders Iraq and Syria to the Islamic State’s inhuman designs.

Many of the words Obama deployed in his rhetorical front in the war against ISIS were quite nice and even refreshingly blunt. “No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day,” Obama said after a brief list of the atrocities committed by ISIS militants. “ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt.”

“People like this ultimately fail,” the president added. “They fail because the future is won by those who build and not destroy.”

History is, indeed, replete with examples of barbaric forces bent on delivering the world back into darkness. Some have failed. Some did not. Those that did fail did so because they were resisted by the armies of civilization. None of history’s dark crusades ever failed in a vacuum.

That’s a critical point. They don’t just ‘fail’. They are defeated.

Obama expressed how “heartbroken” he was at the murder of an American, and he pledged to “extract this cancer so that it does not spread.” But this metastatic tumor has already been allowed to spread. And, even in a fashion that maintained a sufficient level of operational secrecy, the president failed to inform the American people how he planned to excise it…

Where was the status update on the ongoing airstrikes against ISIS positions in the north of Iraq which, judging only from press accounts, appear to be relatively effective? Why did the president fail to address rumors that his administration was aware of the threats to Foley’s life prior to his execution, or that unconfirmed reports have suggested that his killer may have been a former Guantanamo detainee?

For that matter, why did the president not address the fact that a significant number of westerners are apparently fighting alongside ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and Foley’s executioner may have been one of these western jihadists? It is, again, perfectly understandable for the president to not want to get ahead of the facts of this still developing event, but Obama is set to chair as United Nations Security Council meeting in September which is focused entirely on that very threat. He has yet to publicly address this forthcoming UNSC meeting, and this incident would have been a perfect time to broach that subject.

Instead, he leaves it up to his surrogates and the media to inform the public about how this war is being prosecuted. The latest development, breaking just minutes after Obama spoke, is an apparent proposal administration officials are considering to send 300 additional troops to Iraq. Even members of Obama’s own party are now strongly suggesting that the president come to Congress with a request to legally authorize this application of force in Iraq. When does the president plan to speak honestly about the scope of American involvement in the Middle East?

British Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his vacation to return to the urgent matters facing the West and the world with this extremist threat. He called the beheading of American journalist James Foley “shocking and depraved”, giving voice to the deeply rooted reactions of Westerners.

Look, this will all get analyzed and detailed to some extend in the days to come. I’m out of contact for the next couple of days myself, not for vacation but for personal matters. But an initial response must be swift and clear and strong. I hate that it ‘s always a ‘response’ these days, instead of a nation standing for freedom and protection and justice taking the lead in pro-actively leading the way on what the United Nations Charter called the ‘duty to protect.’

So for now, here are a couple of clear pieces of reporting and commentary that directly speak to what we’re confronting in Iraq.

Tod Worner was on my radio program the other day bringing his intellectual heft to the table about what we’re dealing with. And that was while we were dealing with inhumane atrocities unimaginable to the civilized mind, and before the video recorded beheading of an American journalist. Here’s an upshot.

ISIS [the Islamic State in Iraq & Syria, or the Islamic State in Iraq & the Levant (ISIL), or simply the Islamic State – hereafter called ISIS] is the most ruthless, brazen jihadist army the world may have ever seen. For further description, please see my previous posts here, here, and here. Khaled Sharrouf found ISIS compelling enough to leave Australia with his family to arrive in Syria and partake in particularly vicious bloodletting in the name of jihad and the cause of re-establishing the worldwide Islamic Caliphate. With a large cache of money and weaponry at their disposal, ISIS has unleashed a lightning speed butchery in Iraq and Syria unprecedented in scope, fury, and success (with the closest comparison being the 1940-41 National Socialist onslaught in Western Europe and against the Soviet Union). And their achievements are difficult to ignore.

Well over one million refugees have fled their homes and cities fearing certain death if they refused conversion to Islam. Thousands have been tortured, raped and murdered via gruesome means including beheadings, crucifixions, stonings and mass shootings. The culture being erected includes women and girls sold into sex slavery, female genital mutilation, and draconian rules outlawing tobacco, alcohol, and revealing attire. Absolute and fierce adherence to ISIS’ vision of Islam is the unbending law and a hair’s deviation earns pitiless punishment. And this is all being enacted by a group that is awash with money, oil reserves, territory, weapons and a rabid following.

Now the point of this post is not simply to reiterate the unparalleled viciousness unfolding before our eyes day after bloody day in Iraq and Syria – though this, unquestionably, would be reason enough. Rather it is to call attention to a crisis that is being forgotten or, more likely, conveniently ignored: The Crisis of Moral Relativism in the face of Naked Evil…

In the post-modern world, we have been led to believe that truth is relative to person, place, time and culture. This notion has led many to approach different faiths, cultures, nations and people with the exalted virtues of open-mindedness and tolerance…

With all relative and nothing absolute, there is no standard. There is no right or wrong, fair or unfair, good or evil – just gentlemanly differences of opinion. But in the end, absent a guide such as right, wrong, fair, unfair…what will guide the direction a person, a culture, or a society goes in? Power. So the unholy alliance in a morally relative world is between aggressive entities ruthlessly executing their will and their passive observers falling all over themselves asking “Who are we to judge?”….

Perhaps, then, we can agree on something. Perhaps we can agree that what ISIS is doing is…wrong? And is it possible, just possible, that we may find ourselves naming their untethered sadism…evil? You see, once we have moved from a cozy, theoretical, dispassionate, anthropologic interest in a human affair to a true understanding of what is happening, we find ourselves stirred by a deeper sense of inviolable (perhaps, even sacred) human dignity and justice. We have moved from the realm where all truth and morality is relative…to the realm where there is an absolute standard of truth and morality (where human life is dignified, ought to be respected and the violation of this dignity demands justice be served).

By calling the actions of ISIS unacceptable, we have shattered relativism for all time. Because we have invoked an absolute standard: Right and Wrong. How novel that we live in a world where this should be controversial? As Winston Churchill once said,

“It is an important thing to diagnose the evil…”

Yes. Indeed.

But first we must believe in evil.

And that’s where the other piece comes in, from the engaged and exercised and vocal and exquisitely spot on Elizabeth Scalia, who feels the pain and conveys it in a way we can feel.

Look at how she honored the life and death of James Foley, and his witness to the ‘subversive freedom of prayer‘.

A great deal has been written about the late James Foley, his beheading at the hands of a barbarous Islamic State: the moving response from this band of Syrians, the Jesuit education which, along with the example of his family kept him grounded in his faith; his own words on the power of prayer, written in previous captivity.

The story is tragic and infuriating — every bit as nation-stirring as the similar murder of Daniel Pearl, all those years ago, when bloody “war on terror” was still in its official infancy, though in truth, we have been trailing these tears and stains for many decades, now.

But I keep coming back to Foley’s own words on prayer, and how it sustained him:

It showed tremendous heart and was just a glimpse of the efforts and prayers people were pouring forth. If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us. It didn’t make sense, but faith did.

It’s something we’ve talked about a lot on this blog, but it bears repeating: prayer is a subversive means of freedom, at once consoling, engaging and efficacious throughout time and space. It has power, and that power holds, when everything else falls apart.

ISIL got the attention of the US and the Western World. That’s what it wanted. What comes next, God willing, is beyond their reach and grasp.