Photo: AFP/Getty Images
It's shocking to think that there's a situation possible that should make us consider reentering a conflict in the Middle East in a profound way. But behold, the so-called Islamic State is handing the civilized world that situation on a silver platter -- along with the heads of its many enemies. Today IS announced through a horrific video posted online that it had killed another captive American journalist, not simply executing Steven Sotloff but beheading him with a combat knife. This comes just a few weeks after the group made the same gruesome spectacle of killing journalist James Foley and it's already threatening to do the same to British captive David Haines.
I want you to imagine for a minute the kind of savagery it takes to saw a man's head off and the message that kind of act is intended to send. We've seen this before from al-Qaeda -- although never to this degree, seemingly dispensing sadism for sadism's sake -- and if we're honest with ourselves we're willing to admit that it's a brand of barbarism that's almost solely the domain of radical Islam, the version of the religion that seeks to subvert all progress and keep the areas it infects living in a permanent age of darkness and bloodshed. A person who thinks nothing of beheading someone is a person who absolutely cannot be reasoned with -- and when you place that consideration alongside the fact that IS has made it clear that their goal is a pure Islamic caliphate, where, in keeping with the strictest interpretation of the Koran, all of us must either convert or be killed, you begin to understand the threat these people pose.
It's one that can't be ignored. It's as simple as that. I'm the furthest thing from an interventionist and I certainly don't want to see America swagger back into another military misadventure in a part of the world we spent almost a decade screwing up. But the Islamic State is a clear and present danger to not just us but the free world in general. What's more, by welcoming the dregs and drifters of Western society and promising them martyrdom rather than the dead-end existences they had within civilization as we know it, they're creating the most dangerous weapons imaginable: killers with passports who have the ability to travel easily to and from the nations they seek to destroy.
Diplomacy is a delicate and fickle beast. It sometimes means making deals with those who are your enemies simply because the two of you have a common, much more dangerous enemy. There can be no diplomacy with IS, but there can and should be with the countries this group is now trying to carve out territory within, nations that have proven in the past that they can be vicious and cruel but who look like Disneyland when compared to the terrifying designs of the Islamic State. We could go it alone if necessary, or with a loose coalition of Western nations, but that kind of action could create more problems than it solves. In order to lend very necessary legitimacy to any operation against IS beyond the current airstrikes, we'd need the approval of Syria, which is easier said than done being that the country is three years into a civil war and Bashar al-Assad is best known to the West for waging a ruthless campaign against his own people.
We could work with opposition groups on the ground, certainly, and we could create a genuinely broad coalition that includes Arab states in the surrounding areas -- since you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who actually likes IS -- but the bottom line here is that something needs to be done. President Obama is smart to carefully consider our options rather than rushing in blindly, but IS cannot be allowed to gain any further ground. In many ways, this is a threat unlike any we've faced: a young, growing, self-proclaimed fanatical religious "nation" bent on the absolute subjugation or destruction of the civilized world and one that's proven it won't hesitate to engage in ancient tortures and isn't afraid of its own barbaric religious bloodlust. When even al-Qaeda doesn't want to be associated with you, that says a hell of a lot.
IS is exactly the kind of entity that shouldn't exist in the year 2014. And that's why it needs to be stomped into oblivion -- whatever it takes.