Winston Churchill once said, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” Over the past several months, the world has watched with great concern the events unfolding around the Middle East and Eastern Europe. The escalating tensions stemming from these events threaten to destabilize the world at large and serve as a chilling reminder that evil does indeed exist.
This past week, we were reminded of this grim reality when an appalling video surfaced of an American journalist, James Foley, being executed by members of the terrorist group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State (IS) or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). My heart breaks for the family of James Foley, and Renee and I send our thoughts and prayers to all of his loved ones.
The brutality of this despicable act of violence has rightfully shocked the conscience of the entire civilized world. However, unfortunately, the existence of such evil should hardly shock anyone. The death of James Foley is an absolute tragedy and one that deserves outrage and ultimate justice, but the barbaric campaign of these extremists has been on display now for months. They have rampaged across the Middle East, cowardly massacring thousands of innocent women and children, Christians and other religious minorities, and even fellow Muslims.
ISIS’s tactics have become so vicious and their ideology so extreme that even al-Qaeda has denounced them. Still, ISIS has managed to gain control of vast territories, seizing countless dollars, weapons, and people to ultimately enslave, kill, or radicalize. They have also expanded their reach around the globe, drawing thousands of fanatical recruits from the United States, Europe, and other Western nations.
The question many people are now asking is, “how?” How has a group so barbaric, so uncivilized, and so radical been able to make advances so extreme that they now seem to have achieved their ultimate goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East?
The answer is simple: We let them.
We failed to reach an agreement to leave behind a security presence in Iraq as they transitioned to a new government. The Administration allowed Bashar al-Assad to cross our red line without consequence and refused to engage in the Syrian conflict early enough to support the moderate opposition. Ultimately, the United States and the entire civilized world ignored the warning signs of the growing influence of this group and sat idly by while the situation spiraled out of control and IS filled the power vacuum.
I understand we are all war-weary. No one wants to see the U.S. or our allies embroiled in another costly conflict in the Middle East. It is easy to sit back and say, “it is not our problem” or “let someone else deal with it.”
But, as Winston Churchill might have said if he were alive today, however beautiful the strategy of disengagement may be in theory, we must occasionally look at the results. Today, those results are tragic and deeply concerning for the security of free people everywhere. In addition to the devastating hardships endured by the innocent Iraqi and Syrian people, estimates of over 3,000 westerners engaged in these conflicts make clear the outcome has implications not only on United States interests abroad, but our safety right here at home. The potential return of battle trained and hardened terrorists is a threat that is difficult to detect, track, and prevent should we fail to stop them overseas.
While I am pleased to see the Administration’s recognition of this reality with targeted airstrikes and increased support for the Iraqi and Kurdish forces, we must step up our efforts and define our mission not by its limitations, but by its commitment to defeating the enemy.
Across the board, defense and intelligence experts agree that ISIS represents perhaps an even greater threat than al-Qaeda before 9/11. The president needs to come out and declare that the United States will not allow this terrorist group to establish a state and lay out a clear strategy to help the Iraqi and Kurdish forces defeat these extremists.
As your representative, I will continue to be a voice for American leadership on the global stage and will work tirelessly to ensure that our brave men and women in uniform have the resources they need to keep our country safe.
Richard Hudson represents North Carolina’s eighth congressional district, which includes all of Scotland County.