A “heartbroken” President Obama offered condolences Wednesday to the family of an American journalist murdered on-camera by terrorists in Iraq a day earlier while also vowing to continue to fight against the “cancer” that is the Islamic State.
But even after the gruesome beheading of 40-year-old James Foley, the president offered no indication that the U.S. is prepared to change its larger strategy or ramp up military operations in Iraq.
In brief remarks delivered while on vacation at Martha’s Vineyard, Mr. Obama struck a stern yet somber tone in delivering a warning to the Islamic State, which is also known by the acronyms ISIL or ISIS. He said the U.S. will remain “relentless” in its effort to protect Americans in Iraq and elsewhere and will bring to justice those responsible for Mr. Foley’s murder.
In walking a tightrope between consoler and tough-talking commander in chief, the president also sought to draw a clear contrast between Mr. Foley — who had been missing since leaving the U.S. to cover the Syrian civil war in 2012 — and the terrorists who killed him in cold blood and then posted a horrific video of the slaying to YouTube.
“Jim Foley’s life stands in stark contrast to his killers. Let’s be clear about ISIL. They have rampaged across cities and villages, killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence,” the president said. “They abduct women and children and subject them to torture and rape and slavery. They have murdered Muslims — both Sunni and Shia — 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.”
Mr. Obama’s comments came not long after he spoke via phone with Foley’s parents, Diane and John.
In lengthy comments to reporters in front of their New Hampshire home, the Foleys said their son was motivated to return to Syria to document the conflict there and the suffering of ordinary Syrians, even though he’d been taken captive once before and released while covering the civil war in Libya.
“He was not crazy. He was motivated by doing the right thing,” John Foley said. “We believe he was a martyr for freedom.”
“How do you make sense of someone as good as Jim meeting such a fate?” Diane Foley said.
On Tuesday the Islamic State posted to YouTube a video showing Foley’s beheading. Just before he was murdered, Foley was coerced into saying his death is the fault of the U.S. government.
Islamic State fighters then blamed Mr. Obama for any future American deaths.
“So any attempt by you, Obama, to deny the Muslims of living in safety under Islamic caliphate will result in the bloodshed of your people,” one fighter says in English with a strong British accent.
Another American journalist, Steven Joel Sotloff, also is being held by the militant group. He’s shown at the end of the video, on his knees and clad in an orange jumpsuit.
The video comes nearly two weeks after Mr. Obama authorized airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq.
While U.S. intervention has helped Iraqi and Kurdish security forces score victories over the militants — including the retaking of the Mosul Dam earlier this week — Mr. Obama has shied away from greater American involvement.
He continues to brush aside bipartisan calls for an all-out U.S. offensive against the Islamic State, which also holds significant territory in Syria.
Even without greater U.S. intervention on the horizon, the president predicted that the Islamic State will “ultimately fail” and called on the nations of the world to unite in opposition to the terrorist group.
“From governments and peoples across the Middle East there has to be a common effort to extract this cancer so that it does not spread. There has to be a clear rejection of these kind of nihilistic ideologies,” he said. “We share a common security and a common set of values that are rooted in the opposite of what we saw yesterday. And we will continue to confront this hateful terrorism, and replace it with a sense of hope and civility.”