TIME Military

Fighting the Half-In War

Obama Asks Congress to Authorize War Against Islamic State
Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty Images President Obama discusses his draft resolution seeking congressional support in the war on ISIS flanked by, from left, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

Obama opts for a “limited” military campaign against ISIS

Washington irresolution when it comes to waging war has become so feckless that the White House and Congress now engage in a paper chase that lets lawmakers vote on combat without the political risk that would accompany their declaration of war.

That’s why President Obama’s dispatch of his “AUTHORIZATION FOR THE USE OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES” is less than the capital letters might suggest. In fact, the draft makes clear that he is only seeking “the limited use of the United States Armed Forces against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.”

The war against ISIL, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, makes explicit a Presidential bet: “…in this campaign,” his draft resolution reads, “it is more effective to use our unique capabilities in support of partners on the ground instead of large-scale deployments of U.S. ground forces.”

His language expressly rules out “the United States Armed Forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations.” In an accompanying letter to Congress, he says U.S. ground troops would be restricted to rescuing downed allied troops, to “take military action” against ISIS leaders, and for “missions to enable kinetic strikes.” Small numbers, in other words.

“With our allies and partners,” Obama said Wednesday at the White House, “we are going to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.”

But his draft resolution also acknowledges that ISIS leaders “have stated that they intend to conduct terrorist attacks internationally, including against the United States, its citizens, and interests.”

Hard to understand—if Obama means what he says in that passage—why he thinks it wise to subcontract out the bulk of the responsibility for defeating this threat to America to non-Americans.

Then again, he may simply be appropriating such language because he’s caught in the threat-inflation mindset that has tainted much of the debate over the danger posed by ISIS. Fundamentally, it’s little more than a pipsqueak guerilla army outfitted with pickup trucks, AK-47s and a keen sense of the value of well-produced social-media posts. Congress is just as guilty on that charge, pumping the bellows of war against what basically is a barbarian horde.

“I’m concerned that the president is more focused on threading a political needle here rather than how to be successful in beating ISIS,” Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told CNN.

If ISIS represents a threat to the nation, perhaps a declaration of war is warranted. If not, perhaps sitting on the sidelines makes more sense. After all, this conflict now roiling the Middle East boils down to a fight between the Shiite (Iran) and Sunni (Saudi Arabia) branches of Islam. Any role played by outsiders is likely to do little to change the ultimate outcome in such a religious war.

The founders of the U.S. intended that waging war would be a joint enterprise, with the President serving as commander in chief after Congress had declared war. Sure, there are times when a chief executive can’t wait, but Vietnam and Afghanistan each dragged on for more than a decade, and Iraq nearly as long, without Congress bothering to declare war (don’t worry, Iraq’ll be able to catch up in this latest iteration).

It may seem to be only a matter of rhetoric, but a declaration of war by the United States packs a profoundly different punch than a congressional resolution authorizing the use of force. It means the nation is committed to victory. The United States was committed to something in Afghanistan, and Iraq the first time around, but it surely wasn’t victory. The public senses this, and, as a result, the nation ends up fighting its wars tepidly.

Obama has made clear he believes he doesn’t need Congress to approve this retooled authorization for the use of military force. After all, he has been bombing ISIS for six months under authorizations passed by Congress in 2001 and 2002, shortly after the 9/11 attacks.

Both the White House and Capitol Hill get something out of the deal. Obama gets to outline his “limited” military goals. Congress gets to play warlord, without declaring war. The only U.S. party all-in on the conflict, as has become customary, are the young men and women who will risk everything to carry out their nation’s half-hearted orders.

TIME National Security

Kayla Mueller’s Death: Focusing on Names, Not Numbers

Kayla Mueller, 26, an American humanitarian worker from Prescott, Ariz.
Mueller Family—Reuters Kayla Mueller, 26, an American humanitarian worker from Prescott, Ariz.

As war evolves, U.S. attention shifts to individual losses

There is nothing sadder than the loss of a child. American parents reflexively choked up Tuesday after the White House confirmed the death of Kayla Mueller, 26, who had been held hostage by Islamic terrorists in Syria since August 2013.

Details of her death were scant. A White House aide said her captors, belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, had provided information to the Mueller family, which led the U.S. intelligence community to confirm she had perished. ISIS claimed she had been killed in a Jordanian air strikes last week launched in retaliation for ISIS burning captured Jordanian pilot 1st Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbeh to death.

While some intelligence sources expressed skepticism she was killed by a Jordanian bomb, it makes little difference. Mueller was there because people were dying, and she wanted to help. “For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal,” she told her hometown paper in Prescott, Ariz., before she was captured. “It’s important to stop and realize what we have, why we have it and how privileged we are. And from that place, start caring and get a lot done.”

Just like millions of Americans in uniform following 9/11, she volunteered to serve in a war zone, and ended up paying the ultimate price.

Unlike the nearly 7,000 of them, though, there has been intense media focus on her fate since ISIS said she was said she had been killed and her name surfaced, after her family and the U.S. government had kept it secret for 18 months.

There is nothing wrong with that. Individual stories from the war zones—whether that of Jason Dunham, James Foley, Salvatore Giunta, Peter Kassig, Chris Kyle, Steven Sotloff or Pat Tillman—allow us to focus on individual acts. That can shed light on what the nation is doing there, and the progress it is making. Tallying individuals’ sacrifice can lead us to conclude, perhaps in a way raw numbers cannot, whether the effort is worth it.

But, in the same way, raw numbers pack their own kind of punch. Their toll instructs us in how war has changed in our hyper-connected, 24/7 world, and how much, and how willingly, the nation used to sacrifice its young.

An estimated 19,000 Americans died in World War II’s month-long Battle of the Bulge. Storming Normandy cost 16,000 U.S. troops their lives. Gettysburg killed 7,000, on both sides. Korea’s battle of Pusan killed 4,600 Americans. On Sept. 11, 2001, nearly 3,000 people were killed by al Qaeda terrorists, including more than 2,600 Americans. In Vietnam, the Battle of Khe Sanh left more than 700 U.S. troops dead. The Taliban shot down a U.S. Army helicopter in Afghanistan in 2011, killing 30 American troops.

Such numbers have been trending downward. Perhaps we focus on individuals because, thankfully for Americans, our casualties—both military and civilian—in our post-9/11 wars have been historically modest. That doesn’t ease the pain for individual families, of course, but it does mean far fewer families are enduring such anguish.

TIME Military

The U.S. ‘Goldilocks’ Strategy Toward ISIS

F16 fighter jets from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) arrive at an air base in Jordan
Petra Petra / Reuters F-16 fighters from the United Arab Emirates arrived at an air base in Jordan over the weekend, ready to attack ISIS targets.

The Islamic State wants the Pentagon to step up its fight

President Obama is tiptoeing carefully through the minefield that is the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria. So far, he has been surefooted, if tentative. But one false step could mortally wound the final two years of his time in office.

He knows it, the Pentagon knows it—and you can bet that ISIS knows it. The challenge is to make sure the American public knows it, if ISIS becomes even more depraved (which is admittedly hard to believe).

Last week featured ISIS’s brutality on display, first with the release of a video purporting to show the murder by fire of Jordanian 1st Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbeh, and then with the claim that U.S. hostage Kayla Mueller had been killed by Jordanian bombs dropped by Amman’s F-16s in retaliation for the Jordanian F-16 pilot’s killing.

Jordan has stepped up its bombing of ISIS targets since the militants killed the pilot, reporting 56 air raids in three days. The United Arab Emirates, which had suspended its air strikes following al-Kasasbeh’s capture, has deployed warplanes to Jordan following his murder. ISIS’s brutality has “galvanized the coalition, unified the coalition,” retired Marine general John Allen, now the Obama Administration’s anti-ISIS chief, told ABC’s This Week on Sunday.

But what if the murdered pilot had been an American?

The anti-ISIS fervor that has gripped Jordan since the video’s release would pale alongside congressional denunciations of Obama’s steady-as-she-goes policy to “degrade and destroy” ISIS. Cable-news commentators would crank up the heat demanding retribution.

As satisfying as such rants might be, they play into ISIS’s hands. “If we want to fight terrorism effectively we must realize that nothing the terrorists do can defeat us,” Yuval Noah Harari, a historian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, wrote over the weekend in Britain’s Guardian newspaper. “We are the only ones who can defeat ourselves, if we overreact in a misguided way to terrorist provocations.”

That’s the trap ISIS has set for Washington. Given the white-hot rhetoric that Republicans regularly hurl at Obama, it could work. “Too often, what’s missing here in Washington is a sense of perspective,” Susan Rice, the national security adviser, said Friday. The threat ISIS and groups like it pose “are not of the existential nature we confronted during World War II or during the Cold War,” she said. “We cannot afford to be buffeted by alarmism in a nearly instantaneous news cycle.”

Rice said the U.S.-led alliance has “taken out thousands of [ISIS’s] fighters, destroyed nearly 200 oil and gas facilities that fund their terror, and pushed them out of territory, including areas around Baghdad, Sinjar, and the Mosul Dam.”

Obama is pursuing what might be called a “Goldilocks” strategy against ISIS — not too hot, and not too cold. He’s ordered air strikes, which has upset some of his fellow Democrats. But he has refrained from expanding the U.S. role, which has distressed some Republicans. He seems dedicated to the dicey proposition of limiting the U.S. to a supporting player (although it has conducted 81% of the air strikes), and letting Iraqis and Syrians take the lead in the battle on the ground against the barbarians who have seized much of their nations. “We can’t police a region that won’t police itself,” Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va., told CNN Sunday.

In 2001, the Pentagon was fully on board when President George W. Bush decided to invade Afghanistan for the shelter its Taliban government provided al Qaeda, which launched the 9/11 attacks. But U.S. military officers were far more skeptical of the need to invade Iraq two years later.

Now, 12 years after the Iraq invasion, there is an abiding skepticism inside the Pentagon about deeper U.S. involvement in its six-month war against ISIS. Few want it expanded into a third major U.S.-led war in the region. But their leeriness is tempered by not wanting the sacrifice of 4,486 American lives in the 2003 Iraq war to have been wasted. Many of them, of course, weren’t yet alive when Vietnam should have purged that urge for waging war nearly a half-century ago.

TIME Behind the Photos

The Mother Behind the Memoir: Camille Addario on Her Daughter’s Career as a War Photographer

Courtesy of Lynsey Addario Camille and Lynsey Addario circa 1976

As photojournalist Lynsey Addario unveils her memoir, her mother speaks to TIME

“People would say to me: ‘how do you let her do that?'” Camille Addario, the mother of Lynsey Addario, one of today’s preeminent conflict photographers, doesn’t hesitate to answer. “There was no way that I could stop Lynsey from following her passion. It’s like a drive that she has. It’s a calling that’s really extraordinary.”

Choosing a life as a photographer, one that has covered two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was kidnapped twice – in Iraq in 2004 and Libya in 2011, can take its toll. “I know that she suffered putting her loved ones through [the question of] ‘Why am I doing this’, but it’s a passion that just comes out of her being. And, as the mother, I’m so proud of her!”

Lynsey Addario, who just published her memoir It’s What I do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War, grew up with three other sisters in a very open and communicative family set-up in Westport, Connecticut. Her parents ran a successful hair salon until they divorced and her mother worked independently as a hair dresser. “I gave them the freedom of the creativity to express themselves,” says Camille. “I was so criticized. People would say: ‘Oh my God, this woman is really crazy, she lets them write on the walls.’ I always was considered kind of like a little unconventional as far as the freedom that I gave my girls, but I felt that the values and the love and the self-esteem that I could give them, was the most important gift. Rather than telling them, you can’t do this, you can’t do that…”

But Camille never imagined that her daughter would become a war photographer.

“I remember after 9/11 she called me and she said: ‘Mom, I’m going off to Afghanistan.’ My daughter Lisa said: ‘Don’t make her feel guilty, just encourage her.’ So I said ‘Well go, have a good time’. [I] never imagined that it was going to become her lifelong passion. But she was so enthralled in the people, the history, that she returned several times that year. Lynsey’s greatest gift, is her ability to connect with the person or people that she’s photographing.”

Of course, when the battlefield becomes your daughter’s amphitheater, life can get tough. In 2004, when Lynsey was briefly abducted in Iraq, Camille received a voice mail while driving. It was from Bill Keller, the then-executive editor at the New York Times. She remembers the moment vividly. “I got on the phone, and he said: ‘Miss Addario, I’m sorry to say I have frightening news regarding your daughter Lynsey.’ And I dropped the phone.”

One hour later, the phone rang again and it was Lynsey. “She could barely speak, and she said: ‘Mom, I just want you to know that I’m safe and I will call you back.’ That was very traumatic. That was the first time.”

The second time was in Libya in March 2011, when Lynsey went missing alongside her colleagues Anthony Shadid, Stephen Farrell and Tyler Hicks. Camille received a phone call from Hicks’ mother. “I kind of just went into shock,” she says. “And I just broke down. It [then] went from bad to worse. I got a call saying they were captured and they were being brought to prison. I just said: ‘Please God, protect my daughter’.”

“Lynsey always shared everything with me, except the things that she didn’t want me to worry about,” Camille adds. ‘[Sometimes] she would email me and say: ‘Mom, don’t get upset but I have to be fitted for a flack jacket, and I have to get a helmet,’ and I would say why? Lynsey, don’t tell me you’re going, ‘Well I’m going to be embedded, so don’t worry about it.'”

“She always let me know where she was going, but in the kindest most protective way. But I think Lynsey, she did feel kind of protective of me. She was the last one, she was single, and she wanted to make sure that I was safe and I didn’t have to worry about what she was going through.”

Courtesy Lynsey AddarioFrom left, Lukas, Lynsey, and Camille Addario

“Her communication has always been, I think, coming from her heart. She just wanted to keep me safe and assured me that I shouldn’t worry, that whatever I gave her she was giving back to me. And that again is a wonderful gift.”

When asked what it’s like to read about Lynsey’s life in her new memoir, It’s What I Do: A Photographers Life in Love and War, Camille says: “I’ve read it a hundred times now and I keep rereading it. Sometimes I laugh and sometimes I cry a little”.

Does Lynsey make her mom see the world differently? “Absolutely! It really has opened my eyes to the importance of people realizing that how lucky we are to be free, and to be here… and to see these atrocities all over the world that we don’t have any control over.”

“She doesn’t hold back!”

Lynsey Addario is a photojournalist represented by Getty Images Reportage. Her memoir, It’s What I do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War, is published by Penguin Press.

Paul Moakley is the Deputy Director of Photography at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @paulmoakley

TIME Behind the Photos

Meet the Photographer Who Found How to Balance a Life of Love and War

Photojournalist Lynsey Addario has published her first memoir

“I would never think of myself as a role model,” says Lynsey Addario. The 41-year-old, twice-kidnapped, mother-of-one, award-winning photojournalist has released, this month, her first book: an autobiography of her life as a Connecticut-born photographer who has spent the last 15 years witnessing the true human cost of war, particularly for women across the world.

And yet, even if Addario declines to be defined as a role model, with It’s What I Do, she hopes that her own experience, fraught with doubts about her intertwined professional and personal lives, will encourage other women to define their own paths. “[This book is the continuation of my work] as a messenger of experiences,” she tells TIME. “In this case, they are my own experiences.”

Addario didn’t set out to write an autobiography. Her goal, at first, was to produce a monograph of her work. “I’ve always wanted to do a photo book but I’ve never done one because I’ve never felt ready, I just didn’t feel my work was good enough,” she says. “I’ve seen so many photographers rush to do books the minute they start shooting but one great thing about photography is that the images don’t go away, so the more I sit with these images, the more I learn which ones have had the most impact.”

In a career that spanned two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and saw Addario travel to Cuba, India, Pakistan, Israel and Libya, the photographer has had many close calls. She was briefly abducted in Iraq in 2004, and was injured in a car accident in Pakistan in 2009. But, it’s her second abduction, in Libya in 2011 that has come to define, for better or worse, her career as a woman photographer – bringing with it worldwide attention to Addario’s work and the impetus for her memoir.

When Addario was released after five days in captivity, she took a step back from the frontlines, she says, and started contemplating the idea of producing her first monograph. “I was having conversations with Aperture about trying to do a photo book [until] I found out [the photojournalists] Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros had been killed in Libya. It threw me for a loop,” she says. “I had survivor’s guilt. It sort of brought back the trauma of my own experience in Libya in a way that was even exacerbated. I didn’t shun photography, but I felt I needed to tap in into something different.”

The thought of writing a book was, at first, daunting “but it wasn’t as daunting as doing a photo book,” she says. “With photography, I always think that it’s not good enough,” while writing simply involved getting the facts down on paper. “I kept journals for many years,” Addario tells TIME. “I also relied pretty heavily on email correspondence between my family, my friends and myself. So it was more of a matter of pulling all of it together.”

The result is a series of vignettes and moments that “really struck in my mind,” she says. From her first trips in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where she had to play a game of cat-and-mouse with a clerk at an Islamabad embassy in order to get a visa, to her delicate relationships with men over the years, It’s What I Do, is about the difficult, and often unattainable, balance that most photographers struggle with in their professional and personal lives.

But, it’s also a book about a photographer’s commitment to her subjects, especially women, who, as Addario says, are victims of their birthplace.

“As a photographer and as a journalist, I am privy to people’s most intimate moments and it’s always been surprising by how much people open up to me,” she says. “All of these moments – women giving birth, women talking about rape – are incredibly personal and incredibly private.”

Being afforded this kind of access, Addario feels she has a responsibility to show the world what she’s seen. “I feel a huge pressure to be successful in communicating their trauma. I have to make sure that I take this information and disseminate it in a way that’s useful to them in the long term; that will prevent other women from going through what they went through. I can’t imagine not dedicating my life to trying to stop those things from happening.”

But Addario also feels guilt, she says. “Why was I so lucky to be born in Connecticut and to be offered this privileged life when so many people around the world are born into lives of extreme labor and hardship. I constantly struggle with this. Why are some people luckier than others?”

Luck almost ran out for the photographer when she was abducted, alongside her colleagues Anthony Shadid, Stephen Farrell and Tyler Hicks in Libya on March 16, 2011. But, the experience, recounted in great details in It’s What I Do, only reinforced Addario’s commitment. “It actually gave me strength to realize that I’m not a victim,” she tells TIME. “I am a woman who makes these decisions to go to war zones. I know what the risks are. I know it’s possible that I could to get kidnapped. I know it’s possible that I could get assaulted. Those are the risks I take in order to tell these stories.”

She continues: “When I was in Libya, there are distinct moments and images that are seared in my brain that I’ll never forget: being tied up, blindfolded and groped, begging for my life, and begging for someone not to rape me. In these moments, I’ve thought so much about all the women I photographed over the years and how unbelievably strong they were. That was such a source of strength because I thought that if they could get through it when they’ve gone through so much worse, [I could get through it too].”

After her kidnapping, Addario developed a more comprehensive understanding of the people she had been covering all these years. Similarly, she says, becoming a mother was also a defining moment in her life as a photographer. “When I became a mother, I realized so much more about the mothers I’ve photographed and that love that is inexplicable for someone that doesn’t have a child.”

But Addario was ambivalent about becoming a mother, she tells TIME. “I just thought that my life was going to end and I would never be able to photograph again. I couldn’t figure it out because I didn’t have any role models, I didn’t know a single woman conflict photographer who had children.”

This lack of female role models, which has constantly plagued the male-dominated world of photojournalism, is best exemplified in the comments Addario has received over the years from readers. “Everyone is having a field day judging what a horrible woman I am, what a bad mother I am,” she says. “I find it fascinating that anyone feel like they have the right to tell me how to live my life.”

“All of these people,” she adds, “seem to forget that the places I’m photographing are rife with women and mothers. Why are they not up in arms about those women and how they have to live? I think it’s very easy to judge.”

Before writing this book, Addario knew she’d become, once again, the target of such commentary. “I knew every single person would come out of the woods and feel they have a right to judge a pregnant woman, a mother,” she says. “But where are all the people screaming at all the men who leave their pregnant wives at home and go off to a war zone? Why is there no uproar about that?”

And while Addario hopes her book will foster a dialogue, for her, the most important goal was to be honest and open about her life and her struggles. “Sometimes I’ve made mistakes,” she says, “and sometimes I haven’t, but I’ve always learned something, and that’s what I want to teach my son.”

Lynsey Addario is a photojournalist represented by Getty Images Reportage. Her memoir, It’s What I do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War, is published by Penguin Press.

Cubie King, who produced this video interview, is a senior producer at TIME.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

TIME Military

The Power of Vengeance

Airmen share language of aviation during Eager Lion 2014
U.S. Air Force Up to 20 Royal Jordanian Air Force F-16s like this one attacked ISIS targets on Thursday, reportedly killing 55 militants.

The immolation of Jordan’s F-16 pilot bolsters the fight against ISIS

Military planners often try to wring emotions out of their war-fighting schemes. Unlike hardware and Presidential orders, they can be ephemeral and transitory.

But as Jordanian reaction to the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria’s brutal murder of 1st Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbeh makes clear, sometimes such visceral reactions are tantamount to sending reinforcements into the fight.

“Revenge is a uniquely human emotion, and an enduring cause of war,” a 2005 U.S. Army paper noted. “There is a moral component to punitive attack.”

Amman pledged an “earth-shaking” response to the murder of their pilot, disclosed in a horrific video ISIS posted Tuesday. Unlike the Pentagon’s plodding, the Jordanians quickly hanged a pair of terrorists in their custody and began launching air strikes against ISIS targets on Thursday.

Jordan’s King Abdullah ordered the actions after ISIS released the video purportedly showing the jihadists burning the pilot alive in a cage. It seems to have driven Muslim anger against ISIS to new heights (although the United Arab Emirates, which had been bombing ISIS targets in Syria, suspended them after the capture of the Jordanian pilot and the alliance’s inability to rescue him).

The initial Jordanian air strikes Thursday reportedly killed 55 militants in and around ISIS’s self-declared capital in the Syrian town of Raqqa, including a senior commander known as the “Prince of Nineveh.” Up to 30 F-16s flew over the murdered F-16 pilot’s hometown as they returned from their mission (that represents nearly half of the F-16s flown by the Royal Jordanian Air Force).

“The blood of martyr Moaz al-Kasasbeh will not be in vain,” Abdullah said Wednesday. “The response of Jordan and its army after what happened to our dear son will be severe.” Ironically, the old adage of an “eye for an eye” is a part of Sharia law, the Islamic legal code embraced by ISIS.

Contrast the Jordanian reaction to the Pentagon’s. The U.S. military calls its campaign against ISIS Operation Inherent Resolve. It’s a term that suggests a bulwark rather than a bulldozer. Of course, as a superpower, the U.S. tends to be restrained in a way that Jordan doesn’t.

While publicly praising the role played by America’s regional allies in the fight against ISIS, there have been frequent U.S. murmurs that they could be doing more. After all, U.S. thinking goes, ISIS poses the biggest threat to its neighbors—and co-religionists—yet they have accounted for less than 15% of the air strikes against ISIS targets.

The pilot’s murder suggests ISIS may have gone too far this time. While the beheadings of five Westerners, including—including three Americans—by ISIS didn’t appear to trigger stepped-up attacks, Jordan responded quickly.

Major Brandon D. Newton wrote about vengeance in that paper for the Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. In Punishment, Revenge, and Retribution: A Historical Analysis of Punitive Operations, he noted that violent retaliation may be required to deal with groups like ISIS. “Primitive, loosely structured actors or organizations may only respond to actual force,” he said, “not the threat or potential use of force.”

Beyond that, he added, retaliation is timeless. “Revenge is innate, vengeance is an eternal characteristic, and will not be marginalized by time or technology,” Newton concluded.

Read next: Jordan Launches New Airstrikes After Vowing ‘Harsh’ War on ISIS

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME

Crock and Awe: What Was Brian Williams Thinking?

The New York Comedy Festival And The Bob Woodruff Foundation Present The 8th Annual Stand Up For Heroes Event
Monica Schipper—Getty Images NBC News Anchor Brian Williams speaks onstage at The New York Comedy Festival and The Bob Woodruff Foundation present the 8th Annual Stand Up For Heroes Event at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 5, 2014 in New York City.

Whether the anchor told a false war story on purpose or on accident, it's his reputation that's taken a damaging hit.

What did Brian Williams not know, and when did he not-know it?

Here’s what the rest of us know for sure about Williams’ Iraqi misadventure. On the Jan. 30 NBC Nightly News, the anchor told a story about having been on a helicopter that was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade during the 2003 invasion. Soldiers who were there said it wasn’t so, a story appeared in military newspaper Stars and Stripes, and Wednesday night on the news, Williams recanted his story and apologized, saying he was actually on an aircraft following behind the one that was hit.

What we don’t know is whether Williams’ explanation–that he was on a helicopter behind the one that got shot down and “conflated” the two in recalling the story–holds water. We don’t know if he “lied” or “misremembered.” Both of those involve intent, and none of us is psychic. It may seem weird that Williams would intentionally make up a story after having written and reported earlier that he was not on the chopper that got hit by the RPG. And it may seem far-fetched that you could forget the details of, you know, getting shot down in the desert during a war. But I try to live by the rule that any sentence that begins, “If I were ever on a helicopter in the middle of a war zone, I know I’d…” is one not worth hearing the end of.

But whatever was going through Williams’ mind, then and now, what’s telling is the way that both he and NBC told and retold the story over the 12 years in between. What you often see is something more journalistically common than out-and-out making a story up, but dangerous anyway: telling a story, but couching the wording to present it the juiciest way possible.

Erik Wemple at the Washington Post and Brian Stelter at CNN each have a good overview of the iterations of the story over the years. On the Nightly News in 2003, then anchored by Tom Brokaw, Williams’ story doesn’t say he was on the Chinook that got hit by an RPG. It just doesn’t not say it either: “Our lead chopper pilot remembers seeing a pickup truck driver stop and wave while another man pulled back a tarp, stood up in the back of the truck and fired an RPG, a rocket-propelled grenade. Rifle fire came from yet another Iraqi.”

On NBC’s Dateline shortly afterward, there’s a longer report; here Williams does say that “the Chinook ahead of us was almost blown out of the sky.” But Williams returns to the story numerous times over the years. In a 2007 TV segment, he says that “the Chinook helicopters we were traveling in at the start of the Iraq war were fired on and forced down for three days.” Again, this doesn’t explicitly say that Williams’ chopper was hit, but it does put the story dramatically. And in another big discrepancy, the soldiers interviewed by Stars and Stripes charge that Williams actually arrived on the scene in a separate Chinook, which did not come under fire, an hour later.

The story goes on. In a 2008 blog post, Williams writes that the helicopter in front of his was hit by the RPG, but that “all four of our low-flying Chinooks took fire.” That same year, Williams speaks at Ohio State University and the press release says he “was part of a U.S. Army helicopter mission that was forced down.” And on Late Show with David Letterman in 2013, he tells Dave, “two of our four helicopters were hit by ground fire, including the one I was in, RPG and AK-47.” Note the phrasing: he doesn’t say his was the chopper that took the RPG, but you sure could infer the scarier story–and indeed, Letterman says, “I have to treat you now with renewed respect.”

Williams’ version of the story this year was the one that was flat-out, by his admission, false: he says his Chinook was hit by an RPG, and it wasn’t. Why this time? Again, I’m not a mind-reader–and really, an anchor and managing editor of TV’s biggest newscast getting the details wrong of a war story that he himself was involved in is bad enough. Beyond apologizing, Williams needs to come out and be clear about what exactly did happen in 2003–was he in the chopper formation that was fired on, did he arrive later, and so on–and whether that squares with his past versions.

But whether Williams’ RPG story was conflation or invention, it’s possible that either way the root of it is in that pattern you see in some of those retellings, a common enough temptation in journalism: you have a pretty good story, but if you spin it just the right way, you can get your audience to imagine and infer a spectacular one.

It’s a short hop from there to actually blurting yourself that perfect, juicy story that just has the disadvantage of never having happened. Brian Williams’ war story had quite a flight over the years. In the end, it flew a little too high, and was brought down to Earth.

TIME Middle East

ISIS Manifesto Depicts Its Grim Vision of the Role of Women

The newly translated document offers a glimpse into the true expectations for women under ISIS

Women should be married from the age of nine and only educated to the age of 15 according to a manifesto from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria posted to a jihadist forum.

The document was first posted by the media wing of the Khanssaa Brigade, an ISIS women’s group and was translated into English by the British think tank the Quilliam Foundation. It lambasts the “Western program for women” and lays out the expectations for the “sedentary” role of women under ISIS, which controls swathes of Syria and Iraq.

Haraqs Rafiq, the managing director of Quilliam, said in a statement that the manifesto provides a starkly different perspective on female life under ISIS than that projected by some of the hundreds of Western women who have traveled to the region.

“It allows us to look past the propaganda banded about on social media by Western supporters of ISIS, enabling us to get into the mind-set of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of women who willingly join its ranks,” he said.

The manifesto, which Quilliam says was likely intended to attract women from the conservative Gulf region, discusses a female education focused on religion and says the “purpose of her existence is the Divine duty of motherhood.”

 

TIME Islamist Extremism

Inside ISIS and al-Qaeda’s Battle for Brand Supremacy

They may share similar goals but the two groups are bitter rivals

Four days after the terrorist attacks in Paris, which killed 17 people, a video surfaced online showing one of the gunmen, Amedy Coulibaly, pledging allegiance in broken Arabic to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Earlier that week, another assailant, Chérif Kouachi, in a telephone interview to French television claimed allegiance to a different jihadist group: al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. “We acted a bit together and a bit separately,” he said. Kouachi was later killed by police.

With an investigation of the attacks still ongoing, it remains unclear how closely the gunmen actually coordinated with the two terrorist organizations or between themselves. But the episode offers a glimpse of new undercurrents fueling Islamic terrorism: al-Qaeda is no longer the key player when it comes to Islamist terrorism against the West. Instead, multiple jihadi groups cooperate, and at times compete with one another.

That transformation is in full display with the recent successes of ISIS, which have re-invigorated jihadist movements worldwide, explained Katherine Zimmerman, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. “ISIS is only spurring the race toward violent jihad,” she said.

One of the key forces fueling this revival is ISIS’s head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a native Iraqi with a PhD in Islamic Studies and the track record of an ambitious leader.

Unlike heads of other al-Qaeda’s main affiliates who climbed the ladders of the group’s central leadership, al-Baghdadi rose in the ranks of one of its offshoots, al-Qaeda in Iraq, and doesn’t have a direct, personal relationship with the rest of the network.

In April 2013, al-Baghdadi announced that he was extending his group’s activities from Iraq into Syria. To reflect the change, he renamed al-Qaeda in Iraq to the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS.

The move reportedly took al-Qaeda’s head by surprise. In 2014, the group formally dissociated itself from its affiliate in Iraq and Syria, culminating years of feuding between the two organizations. ISIS “is not a branch of the al-Qaeda group … does not have an organizational relationship with it and [al-Qaeda] is not the group responsible for their actions,” al-Qaeda’s general command said in a statement.

The extent of the break’s shockwave is yet to be fully measured. But from the sidelines, observers have taken note of the new balance of power.

Recent signs of the tug-of-war include reports of ISIS militants trying to recruit in Afghanistan and Pakistan and of the arrest of three of its agents in late January — effectively tip-toeing on al-Qaeda’s home turf.

“The Islamic State is a competitor in leading the global jihad and it is currently winning the race,” said William McCants, a fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Some groups, from Northern Africa to South-east Asia, have since rallied behind the winning horse.

For instance, in September, an armed group calling itself the Caliphate Soldiers in Algeria, previously affiliated with al-Qaeda’s North African branch, split from al-Qaeda’s core command and swore loyalty to ISIS, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, an organization that monitors terrorist activity online.

In October, senior members of the Pakistani Taliban vowed allegiance to the Islamic State. While the six men didn’t speak for the Pakistani Taliban, the announcement further underscores divisions among militant Islamist groups as ISIS rises.

In all, 18 organizations expressed support and/or allegiance to ISIS, according to an analysis provided by al-Qaeda expert Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, deputy director of the Geneva Center for Security Policy and adjunct professor at the Graduate Institute in Geneva.

Beyond the Arab world, another organization has had a complicated relationship with al-Qaeda and ISIS: Jama’atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda’Awati Wal Jihad, better known as Boko Haram. The group is behind a deadly suicide attack on a United Nations building in Abuja in 2011, the killing of thousands of people, including hundreds of students, and the kidnapping of at least 800 women and children in the past year alone.

While there is evidence that Boko Haram received training and support from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Nigerian group is increasingly aligning itself with ISIS. Drawn by its numerous successes, Boko Haram has adopted the ISIS flag in videos and started to mirror ISIS’ language in statements, said Amy Pate, the research director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland.

“Boko Haram is going after status,” Pate said. “As ISIS remains the hot brand within the Islamic jihadi movement, I wouldn’t be surprised if Boko Haram continued to use supportive rhetoric and align itself more and more with ISIS as opposed to al-Qaeda.”

A month after ISIS declared its caliphate, Boko Haram also appeared to mirror the group’s land-grabbing tactics in Northern Nigeria, said Jacob Zenn, an African affairs analyst for the D.C.-based Jamestown Foundation.

Now, Boko Haram controls an area just over 30,000 square kilometers of territory, about the size of West Virginia.

But it’s premature to speak of a formal link between ISIS and Boko Haram.

“We see a clear copying,” said Zenn. “The big question remains as whether this is messaging or signaling or whether there are intermediaries between the two groups.”

Yet, despite ISIS’ growing appeal, the major branches of al-Qaeda in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa have remained in the ranks.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, is considered the most dangerous affiliate and has the closest relationship with the original al-Qaeda.

The two have overlapping hierarchies: AQAP’s leader, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, was recently appointed to serve as al-Qaeda’s general manager, an important position that effectively makes him No.2 of the organization.

Al-Wuhayshi and al-Qaeda’s current head Ayman al-Zawahiri go way back. Al-Wuhayshi was Osama bin Laden’s personal aide in Afghanistan from the late 1990s until after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, at a time al-Zawahiri was also part of bin Laden’s inner circle.

In the rift between ISIS and al-Qaeda, AQAP has sided with the latter, arguing in online videos that al-Baghdadi’s declaration of an Islamic caliphate was illegitimate.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, another of al-Qaeda’s main affiliates, has for its part refrained from recognizing ISIS as legitimate. The group’s leadership, based in desert areas of Algeria, is also part of the network that trained in Afghanistan.

Blood kins
Despite clear antagonisms when it comes to strategy, al-Qaeda and ISIS can be thought of as ideological siblings.

“The disagreement between the two is over what the group should be doing to bring about the caliphate: the tactics and strategies,” the American Enterprise Institute’s Zimmerman said. “ISIS and al-Qaeda both want global jihad, but the way they go about it is very different.”

While al-Qaeda’s strategy under Osama bin Laden focused on preaching its form of Islam and toppling regimes aligned with the West before trying to establish a caliphate, ISIS believes in simultaneously establishing a state — a strategy first championed by al-Qaeda in Iraq’s deceased ideologue, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, said Zimmerman.

It is those competing visions that may separate the two in the long run.

What has been ISIS’ success — its ability to conquer and control territory — could be the source of its demise as the group will have to defend its territorial conquests, explained al-Qaeda expert Mohamedou.

“ISIS wants to be a global entity, but it’s very much locally grounded,” Mohamedou explained. “The territory they hold is their strength because they extract resources, but territory is where you can be found and where you can be targeted — that is strategically a more difficult position to hold.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 4

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. ISIS is bringing recruits onto the battlefield faster than we can kill them.

By Tim Mack and Nancy A. Youssef in the Daily Beast

2. If body cameras become standard issue for police officers, how will we protect the privacy of people being recorded?

By Paul Rosenzweig in The Christian Science Monitor

3. A university recognizes a third gender: Neutral.

By Julie Scelfo in the New York Times

4. Can the rest of the nation — and the world — learn from one Indian state’s incredible success reducing poverty and improving quality of life?

By the World Bank

5. Want better schools? Leadership matters. Invest in high-quality professional development for school principals.

By Arianna Prothero in Education Week

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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