TIME politics

Rand Paul: ‘I Am Not an Isolationist’

Rand Paul, Rod Blum
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. listens he is introduced to speak by Iowa Republican congressional candidate Rod Blum, left, during a meeting with local Republicans, Aug. 5, 2014, in Hiawatha, Iowa. Charlie Neibergall—AP

If I had been in President Obama's shoes, I would have acted more decisively and strongly against ISIS

Some pundits are surprised that I support destroying the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) militarily. They shouldn’t be. I’ve said since I began public life that I am not an isolationist, nor am I an interventionist. I look at the world, and consider war, realistically and constitutionally.

I still see war as the last resort. But I agree with Reagan’s idea that no country should mistake U.S. reluctance for war for a lack of resolve.

As Commander-in-Chief, I would not allow our enemies to kill our citizens or our ambassadors. “Peace through Strength” only works if you have and show strength.

Our recent foreign policy has allowed radical jihadists to proliferate. Today, there are more terrorists groups than there were before 9/11, most notably ISIS. After all the sacrifice in Afghanistan and Iraq, why do we find ourselves in a more dangerous world?

And why, after six years, does President Obama lack a strategy to deal with threats like ISIS?

This administration’s dereliction of duty has both sins of action and inaction, which is what happens when you are flailing around wildly, without careful strategic thinking.

And while my predisposition is to less intervention, I do support intervention when our vital interests are threatened.

If I had been in President Obama’s shoes, I would have acted more decisively and strongly against ISIS. I would have called Congress back into session—even during recess.

This is what President Obama should have done. He should have been prepared with a strategic vision, a plan for victory and extricating ourselves. He should have asked for authorization for military action and would have, no doubt, received it.

Once we have decided that we have an enemy that requires destruction, we must have a comprehensive strategy—a realistic policy applying military power and skillful diplomacy to protect our national interests.

The immediate challenge is to define the national interest to determine the form of intervention we might pursue. I was repeatedly asked if I supported airstrikes. I do—if it makes sense as part of a larger strategy.

There’s no point in taking military action just for the sake of it, something Washington leaders can’t seem to understand. America has an interest in protecting more than 5,000 personnel serving at the largest American embassy in the world in northern Iraq. I am also persuaded by the plight of massacred Christians and Muslim minorities.

The long-term challenge is debilitating and ultimately eradicating a strong and growing ISIS, whose growth poses a significant terrorist threat to U.S. allies and enemies in the region, Europe, and our homeland.

The military means to achieve these goals include airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria. Such airstrikes are the best way to suppress ISIS’s operational strength and allow allies such as the Kurds to regain a military advantage.

We should arm and aid capable and allied Kurdish fighters whose territory includes areas now under siege by the ISIS.

Since Syrian jihadists are also a threat to Israel, we should help reinforce Israel’s Iron Dome protection against missiles.

We must also secure our own borders and immigration policy from ISIS infiltration. Our border is porous, and the administration, rather than acting to protect it, instead ponders unconstitutional executive action, legalizing millions of illegal immigrants.

Our immigration system, especially the administration of student visas, requires a full-scale examination. Recently, it was estimated that as many as 6,000 possibly dangerous foreign students are unaccounted for. This is inexcusable over a decade after we were attacked on 9/11 by hijackers including one Saudi student who overstayed his student visa.

We should revoke passports from any Americans or dual citizens who are fighting with ISIS.

Important to the long-term stability in the region is the reengagement diplomatically with allies in the region and in Europe to recognize the shared nature of the threat of Radical Islam and the growing influence of jihadists. That is what will make this a comprehensive strategy.

ISIS is a global threat; we should treat it accordingly and build a coalition of nations who are also threatened by the rise of the Islamic State. Important partners such as Turkey, a NATO ally, Israel, and Jordan face an immediate threat, and unchecked growth endangers Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Gulf countries such as Qatar, and even Europe. Several potential partners—notably, the Turks, Qataris, and Saudis—have been reckless in their financial support of ISIS, which must cease immediately.

This is one set of principles. Any strategy, though, should be presented to the American people through Congress. If war is necessary, we should act as a nation. We should do so properly and constitutionally and with a real strategy and a plan for both victory and exit.

To develop a realistic strategy, we need to understand why the threat of ISIS exists. Jihadist Islam is festering in the region. But in order for it to grow, prosper, and conquer, it needs chaos.

Three years after President Obama waged war in Libya without Congressional approval, Libya is a sanctuary and safe haven for training and arms for terrorists from Northern Africa to Syria. Our deserted Embassy in Tripoli is controlled by militants. Jihadists today swim in our embassy pool.

Syria, likewise, has become a jihadist wonderland. In Syria, Obama’s plan just one year ago—and apparently Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s desire—was to aid rebels against Assad, despite the fact that many of these groups are al-Qaeda- and ISIS-affiliated. Until we acknowledge that arming the Islamic rebels in Syria allowed ISIS a safe haven, no amount of military might will extricate us from a flawed foreign policy.

Unfortunately, Obama’s decisions—from disengaging diplomatically in Iraq and the region and fomenting chaos in Libya and Syria—leave few good options. A more realistic and effective foreign policy would protect the vital interests of the nation without the unrealistic notion of nation-building.

Paul is the junior U.S. Senator for Kentucky.

TIME Media

Don’t Look: Beheadings, Stolen Nudes and Choosing to Be Decent

Just because you can look at something doesn't mean you should.

We live in the age of the image as weapon. Sometimes the crime is petty and lurid, as when, over Labor Day weekend, a cache of nude photographs of female celebrities was released online and spread through social media. Sometimes the crime is horrific and deadly, as on Tuesday, when ISIS released a video of the beheading of Steven Sotloff, the second journalist the group murdered on tape in recent weeks. (Disclosure: Sotloff contributed reporting to TIME.)

The two acts, clearly, are not nearly the same. One is theft, one is murder. One is a digital violation, one is physical violence.

But they have something important in common: the reliance on technology that makes it seamless to spread an image, almost instantly, across the world. And the reliance on an older piece of machinery to complete the violation: The human eye. The human brain. You.

It’s not just a matter, in either case, of someone doing a horrible thing and you witnessing it later. Here, the witnessing completes the act. That’s not to say that you, looking at your device, are the same as the terrorist or the hacker. But you are completing their aim: that many eyes, many places, see what they did, whether to terrorize or humiliate.

You didn’t swing the blade or hack the photos. But there is something you can do. You can choose not to look.

After the celebrity nudes were exposed, I saw variations on several arguments why it’s fine to look at them. “They shouldn’t have taken nude selfies.” Not your business. “They should have been more careful.” So what? If I leave my bike unlocked, you’re still a thief if you ride off on it. “They wanted someone to see them naked.” Not you. And not recognizing why that matters is pretty much the definition of being a creep. “I didn’t hack the pictures.” No; but someone did it with the intention of exposing their subjects before millions of people. You’re finishing the job for them.

With the beheadings, and videos of terrorist acts in general, the arguments are different. There was an argument, made forcefully after 9/11, that we shouldn’t whitewash terrorist violence. That we have not just a right but a duty to confront, say, the images of people jumping from the burning World Trade Center towers to remember the horror of what happened, to know what we we up against. But while the 9/11 attacks were in part a media spectacle, that’s a different thing from a deliberately filmed murder, a grisly performance meant explicitly to be shared for effect. The aim of the beheading videos are that you see them; watching them literally completes their purpose.

I’m not saying you’re evil if you watch one of these videos, or peep a stolen celebrity nudie. It’s about something less grandiose than evil, less widely discussed–but at least as important: decency. Decency, at least a very big part of it, is knowing that you are permitted to do a thing–it’s physically possible, it’s not illegal, no one can stop you–yet you shouldn’t anyway.

And it’s about something that probably every one of us who uses the Internet loses sight of sometimes: that at the other end of all these views and comments and transactions, there is, or was, an actual human person. That something is on video doesn’t make it a movie; that you’re seeing someone on your device doesn’t make them a video game character; that this naked person is an actress does not make looking at her against her will an entertainment.

These days, you can see almost anything. A lot of bad people know that and count on it. Sometimes the most powerful, most decent thing you can do is not to look.

TIME Military

Why the U.S. Won’t Buckle Under ISIS Pressure

IRAQ-UNREST
Kurdish fighters inspect an ISIS vehicle, bearing a jihadist flag, after it was hit by a U.S. air strike in northern Iraq last month. Ahmad Al-Rubaye—AFP/Getty Images

The murder of two journalists only highlights the terrorists’ weakness

In the clash between Islamic militants and the West, Steven J. Sotloff was an innocent player caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. But the shock of Sotloff’s murder, announced Tuesday in a video released by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), only serves to highlight the weakness of those who killed him.

It’s a classic case of what the Pentagon calls asymmetric warfare—where one side in the fight is so outgunned that it resorts to unorthodox—and sometimes inhuman—tactics to try to even the odds, scrambling the rules of war that have guided nations for centuries.

Over the past month, the U.S. military has launched more than 100 air strikes against ISIS targets in northern Iraq. While U.S. officials have publicly justified the attacks on humanitarian grounds—as well as protecting U.S. interests—they also have obliterated dozens of ISIS vehicles and checkpoints, and those manning them.

There is no way ISIS can counter U.S. air strikes. It has no air force and apparently has few, if any, anti-aircraft weapons. Its ground forces, once identified, are easy targets for American laser- and GPS-guided bombs and missiles.

Unable to thwart the attacks, ISIS has tried to derail them by murdering a pair of journalists it was holding in captivity. The first, James Foley, a freelance reporter for the GlobalPost website, was allegedly killed by a black-clad man speaking with an English accent in a video released Aug. 19. ISIS released a second video 14 days later, purportedly showing the same man murdering Sotloff, who had freelanced for Time.

War, at least between states, is guided by international law, which prohibits intentionally killing innocent civilians. But non-state actors have long been willing to resort to terrorism and murder to make their points. The masked man who killed Sotloff used a knife, but the video was the real weapon—a broadcast attempt to overcome impotence on the battlefield. “I’m back, Obama, and I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings and in Amerli, Zumar and the Mosul Dam, despite our serious warnings,” the man said.

Because ISIS can’t stop the bombing by matching U.S. weaponry, it is trying to stop it by horrifying the American public in hopes they will compel President Obama to stop. That hope shows how little ISIS understands the American body politic: there is no indication the killings have put political pressure on Obama to slow his attacks on ISIS—if anything, the killings have increased support for the bombings.

Speaking to reporters in Estonia on Wednesday, Obama said, “Whatever these murderers think they’ll achieve by killing innocent Americans like Steven, they have already failed. They have failed because, like people around the world, Americans are repulsed by their barbarism. We will not be intimidated. Their horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take the fight against these terrorists.”

That said, horror isn’t the only way to win an asymmetric war: sometimes the points non-state actors want to make are as much political as military, and through their patience and resolve they can prevail over stronger foes.

“We’ve been going after terrorist networks in that part of the world for more than a decade, with very good success,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said Tuesday. “The real measure of success is that their ideology is ultimately defeated, and the only way that’s going to be done is through good governance. And we’ve said that time and again, but I think it’s worth repeating. There’s not going to be a military solution to this.”

But there too ISIS is showing weakness. Its rampaging militants have stormed towns and cities across much of Syria and Iraq, slaughtering civilians as they go and imposing the harshest form of religious law on territory they control. In more than a few places, the U.S. military intervention has not only hurt ISIS it has won support from their beleaguered victims.

In the latest recorded murder, the man threatened to kill another captive if the American bombings continue. “Just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people,” the man said. But ISIS is beginning to run out of hostages. The U.S. will never run out of missiles. And if ISIS continues its brutal tactics on the ground in Iraq, soon enough it will run out of local supporters, too.

TIME Military

The U.S. Should Not Wage War Against ISIS Like Afghanistan and Iraq

Iraqi security forces and Shi'ite militias advance towards town of Amerli from their position in the Ajana
Some of the Iraqi security forces who helped free the town of Amerli over the weekend with help from U.S. air strikes Reuters

But those two campaigns offer clues on how it should be done

The U.S. waged two effective short-term wars following 9/11. Unfortunately, the nation then grafted them onto far more ambitious enterprises that not only drove their costs, in American blood and treasure, through the roof, but also sowed the seeds for failure.

That’s the key takeaway to keep in mind as President Obama weighs what to do about the rampage now being conducted by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in both of those nations.

Over the Labor Day weekend, U.S. airpower, combined with Iraqi help on the ground, broke a two-month ISIS siege of the village of Amerli in northern Iraq. The militants had been tightening a noose around the farming town, cutting off water, food and power, and residents had begun dying. Finally, beginning late Saturday, a handful of U.S. air strikes let Iraqi forces and militias break the siege.

While President Obama said the strikes would be “limited in their scope and duration,” their success offers a template, in miniature, for a broader U.S.-led campaign against the Islamist militant group.

It would mark a departure from recent U.S.-led wars. “No one is advocating unilateral invasion, occupation or nation-building,” Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina wrote in a weekend op-ed column in the New York Times, urging stepped-up U.S. military action against ISIS. “This should be more like Afghanistan in 2001, where limited numbers of advisers helped local forces, with airstrikes and military aid, to rout an extremist army.”

In Afghanistan, the U.S. waged a monthlong campaign that drove the Taliban from Kabul. It relied on U.S. airpower and special operators on the ground, working with local anti-Taliban forces. Then, the U.S. launched a 13-year effort, still under way, to build an Afghan government immune to the Taliban.

Many Taliban fled to Pakistan, where they continue to plot to retake power in Afghanistan once U.S. combat units pull out at the end of 2014. There’s an echo of that Taliban sanctuary in Pakistan in ISIS’s presence in Syria. Any beefed-up campaign against ISIS militants is going to have to attack their targets in both nations.

In Iraq, the U.S. military pushed Saddam Hussein from Baghdad less than three weeks after invading the country. But the U.S. soon became mired in an eight-year nation-building effort that failed to build a nation. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S., despite its best intentions, helped install leaders who have done little to lead their countries to a better place.

And that exposes the futility of the so-called Pottery Barn rule. Retired Army general and then Secretary of State Colin Powell summed it up by saying the U.S. had responsibility for the nations it invaded: “If you break it, you own it.”

But war isn’t always about creating something better. Sometimes it’s simply about ridding the world of terrorists whose zealotry compels them to kill innocents.

For a warrior-diplomat renowned for his earlier guidelines on going to war — the so-called Powell doctrine required a clear and obtainable objective before the first bombs fell — the Pottery Barn rule proved daunting.

Actually, Pottery Barn doesn’t have such a rule. If a customer stumbles into a vase and sends it crashing to the floor, the company writes it off as a cost of doing business. It’s past time for the U.S. government to scrap its misinterpretation of the so-called rule.

War isn’t a positive experience for anyone, and all involved are ill served by pretending otherwise.

If the U.S. deems ISIS to be a threat to U.S. national security, the U.S. military, backed by presidential order and a congressional declaration, should wage unrelenting attacks against it. Instead of embracing Powell’s view, the nation would be better served thinking of war as 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes viewed human life without government: “nasty, brutish and short.”

TIME Crime

Boston Bombing Suspect Requests Trial Delay

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev FBI/AP

The trial is currently scheduled to begin in November

Lawyers for Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev filed a petition Friday asking a federal judge to delay the start of his bombing trial to September 1, 2015 or later. The defense argues that it needs more time to prepare given the volume of evidence to sort through and the severity of the charges.

“The trial in this case is currently scheduled to begin just 16 months after the defendant was indicted,” the petition said. “It is critically important that any trial be fair, which means giving both sides, not just the government, enough time to uncover and present all relevant evidence.”

Earlier this month defense lawyers argued that media coverage in Boston would unfairly harm Tsarnaev’s defense and asked that the trial be moved from Boston.

Tsarnev is accused of carrying out the April 15, 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon with his brother Tamerlan. Three bystanders were killed and hundreds were injured during the bombing. A police officer died in subsequent shootings, and Tamerlan died after he was shot in the head during a manhunt for the two brothers.

The trial on charges of using a weapon of mass destruction and malicious destruction of property resulting in death is currently scheduled to begin in November.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 25

1. Slavery’s long shadow is inextricably linked to modern income inequality in the south.

By Stephen Mihm in the Boston Globe

2. Superdistricts in the House of Representatives could end the tyranny of incumbency in Congress.

By Katrina vanden Heuvel in the Washington Post

3. Yelp the Police: Georgia teens build an app to rate law enforcement interactions.

By Rebecca Borison in Business Insider

4. The new Egyptian government’s policies of repression and exclusion could push citizens into the arms of extremist groups.

By Michele Dunn and Scott Williamson at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

5. Transforming oil and gas rigs into artificial reefs could save the delicate ecosystems formed around the structures.

By Amber Jackson in Huffington Post

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

TIME Military

The Rescue That Wasn’t

Part of a damaged helicopter is seen lying near the compound where al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad
The tail of a downed Special Ops helicopter inside bin Laden's compound in Pakistan in 2011. The pilots who led that successful mission belonged to a unit created because of a failed rescue effort in Iran 31 years earlier. REUTERS

If you're waiting for perfect intelligence to guarantee success, you'll never launch a military rescue mission

The Pentagon spoiled Americans with its near-perfect grab of Osama bin Laden in May 2011. Save for a wrecked helicopter, Operation Neptune Spear went off without a hitch (assuming, as many Americans did, that taking bin Laden alive was never a top priority).

But the Navy SEALs drew to an inside straight that night in Abbottabad, Pakistan. All the practice in the world can’t trump bum intelligence. And the U.S. intelligence community’s estimates that bin Laden would be in the compound where he died ranged from 30 to 95%. If bin Laden hadn’t been there, the raid would have been deemed a failure, and would perhaps still be a secret.

The Pentagon only confirmed the failed July raid to rescue James Foley, whose murder was made public in a video released by Islamic militants on Tuesday, and several other U.S. hostages in Syria, after word began to leak out late Wednesday. “Unfortunately, the mission was not successful because the hostages were not present at the targeted location,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon’s top spokesman, said in a statement.

Such misses have happened before.

In 1970, 56 U.S. troops raided North Vietnam’s Son Tay prison camp to rescue the estimated 55 U.S. POWs believed to be there.

Technically, Operation Ivory Coast succeeded: the U.S., using more than 100 aircraft to support the operation, seized the camp. Unfortunately for the U.S., the North Vietnamese had moved the prisoners a day earlier due to North Vietnamese concerns that the camp was too close to a river that might flood. Two U.S. troops were injured during the mission.

Perhaps the most infamous rescue attempt since then was 1980’s Operation Eagle Claw, the aborted mission to bring home the 52 U.S. hostages held in Tehran after Iran seized the U.S. embassy there. They had been held for six months when President Carter ordered eight choppers on a risky two-night mission to rescue them. But sandstorms and mechanical woes grounded three of them on the first day, forcing the military to scrub the mission. As they withdrew, one of the helicopters hit a refueling plane at the Desert One staging site in the Iranian desert, killing eight U.S. troops.

The fiasco doomed any chance Carter had of winning a second term—Iran released the hostages shortly after Ronald Reagan took office—and led Congress to create the U.S. Special Operations Command to coordinate such efforts in the future. It also led the Army to create the Night Stalkers of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the unit whose pilots flew the Navy SEALs to bin Laden’s lair.

TIME Iran

One Result of the Gaza Conflict: Iran and Hamas Are Back Together

Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking to Iranian ambassadors abroad during a ceremony in Tehran, Aug. 13, 2014.
Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking to Iranian ambassadors abroad during a ceremony in Tehran, Aug. 13, 2014. EPA

Iran and Hamas were once tightly allied, but the Syrian war drove them apart. Now, after the Gaza conflict, the two sides are making up

Correction appended, 8/19/14

Long considered to be the biggest sponsor of Islamic militants battling Israel and designated as terrorist groups by the United States, Iran’s relationship with the Palestinian group Hamas was once touted as among its strongest. Not only had Iran brought Hamas on board the so-called Axis of Resistance, alongside its other regional allies Syria and the Lebanese Hezbollah, but the Islamic Republic had always publicly boasted of its wide ranging support for the group, from providing financial backing to shipping weapons.

However, when the Arab Spring spread into Syria in 2011, the majority Shiite Iran’s long-standing alliance with Hamas deteriorated significantly when the militant group opted to break step with Tehran and support the mainly Sunni rebels against Syria’s Bashar Assad. The falling-out came to a head when the political leaders of Hamas moved their base from Syria to Qatar, a regional rival of Iran.

In retaliation Iran, Syria and Hezbollah reportedly ended their support for Hamas in all fields, effectively ousting it from their Axis of Resistance and cutting off one of Hamas’ most vital lifelines. “The Iranians are not happy with our position on Syria, and when they are not happy, they don’t deal with you in the same old way,” the deputy political leader of Hamas Moussa Abu Marzouk in February 2012, according to the Associated Press.

When the latest battle between Hamas and Israel, called the Zionist Regime in Tehran, flared up in early July, Iran initially remained relatively quiet, though it denounced Israel for the loss of life among civilians. But the number of Palestinian casualties grew, including many children and women, attracting significant international attention and sympathy. (As of Aug. 10 nearly 2,000 Palestinians had been killed according to the UN, along with 66 Israelis.) For Iran, the Gaza conflict was seen as an opportunity to improve its standing in the Islamic world, which had suffered—especially among Sunnis—thanks to its steadfast support of Assad.

Seeking to take advantage of this opportunity and to regain its position as the foremost supporter of the Palestinian militant groups battling Israel—and to reconcile with Sunni Muslims throughout the Middle East—a significant number of Iranian officials have now gone on the record to voice their support for Hamas, the main militant group in Gaza, over its latest battle with Israel. “We are prepared to support the Palestinian resistance in different ways,” said the commander of the revolutionary guards, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafaria, during a speech on Aug. 4, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency. “Just as until now any show of strength in Palestine which caused the defeat of Zionists has its roots in the support of the Islamic Revolution [of Iran].”

The first sign of this shift came on July 29, when Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, praised the resistance against Israel in a speech, calling on the Islamic world to equip Palestinians according to his official website Khamenei.ir. Two days later Khamenei was echoed by one of Iran’s top military officers, Major General of the Guards Qasem Soleimani, who commands the elite Quds Force of the Islamic Revolution Guardians Corps. Soleimani published a rare public letter to the “Political leaders of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and all the resistance,” lauding their continued efforts against Israel. The letter promised that Iran “will continue to perform our religious duty to support and help the resistance till the moment of victory when the resistance will turn the earth, the air and the sea into hell for Zionists,” according to the official IRNA news agency.

That was followed by numerous officials, MPs and military figures, all issuing statements in support of Hamas, and echoing Khamenei’s call for unity among Muslims. “In our defence of Muslims we see no difference between Sunni and Shiite,” said General Jafari, the commander of the guards, in an Aug. 4 speech. Some even promised a supply of weapons to Hamas, which has been officially designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. “You will get the weapons and ammunition you need no matter how hard it might be to do so,” said Mohsen Rezaei, the former wartime commander of the revolutionary guards in a public letter to the commander of the military wing of Hamas Mohammed Deif, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

With Iran already deeply involving in shoring up the Iraqi and Syrian governments against militant Sunni groups, it is doubtful that these promises of support and weapons for Hamas could be fulfilled anytime soon, and while the Islamic Republic is also striving to break the impasse in its nuclear negotiations with the U.S. and other powers, arming militant groups against Israel, America’s main ally in the region, could be potentially disruptive for those talks. But in his letter to Deif, Rezaei tried to address that doubt, writing that “Israel is mistaken in its belief that the instabilities in Syria, Iraq and Egypt, and the pressure on Iran from the United States’ economic blockade has given them an opportunity.”

In the meantime Iran has continued its charm offensive on Sunni Muslims. The head of the influential State Expediency Council, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, met with Iran’s top Sunni clerics and activists recently, and called for unity among all Muslims. Promising them that Iran intended to support and defend all Abrahamic religions and sects—Rafsanjani condemned any act that could cause divisions among Muslims. Backing up that position, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry announced on Aug. 3 that it had shut down the offices and arrested the staff of four extremist Shiite satellite channels that regularly incite intolerance and hatred against other Islamic sects, especially Sunnis.

Hamas—which has been politically isolated since its last remaining backer, former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, was removed from power—has welcomed reconciliation with its old ally and benefactor. Hamas’ official representative to Iran, Khalid al-Qoddoumi, reportedly said on Aug. 9 that Iranians “have always been the first in line to help and support our people.” Reports from the semiofficial ISNA news agency also indicate that a long postponed visit to Iran by the head of Hamas, Khaled Mashal, is set to happen soon. For Israel, the ongoing conflict in Gaza has had one more unexpected and unwelcome outcome: Iran and Hamas are together again.

Correction: Because of an editing error, the date of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry’s announcement that it had shut down the offices and arrested the staff of four extremist Shiite satellite channels was misstated. It was Aug. 3.

TIME Iraq

ISIS to U.S.: ‘We Will Drown All of You in Blood’

The militants are on the defensive following a series of successful U.S. airstrikes

The Sunni extremist group that is ravaging large swaths of northern Iraq has warned it will attack Americans “in any place” should U.S. airstrikes kill any of its members, Reuters reports.

American airstrikes began earlier this month in an attempt to help thousands of people—members of the Yazidi, an ethnic minority in the region—who were trapped on a mountain range by fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). President Barack Obama formally told Congress on Sunday that he had sanctioned additional air raids, though he said they would be limited. The new strikes, requested by the Iraqi government, were intended to help Iraqi and Kurdish security forces who had been battling the militants for control of the strategic Mosul Dam. Aided by U.S. air support, these troops successfully recaptured it on Aug. 18.

U.S. Central Command said at least 14 airstrikes were conducted on Sunday, and had successfully damaged or destroyed ISIS vehicles and one of its checkpoints. The group’s latest missive might reflect its anger towards the U.S., whose aerial support has allowed the Iraqi and Kurdish forces to reclaim some of the territory that ISIS had seized in a lightning offensive in June.

Reuters adds that the purported ISIS video shows an image of an American, who was beheaded during the U.S.-led war in Iraq that ended in 2011. The 45-second film also shows people being shot by snipers and vehicles being blown up. Near the start of the clip, the group’s black flag appears next to an American one. A message, in English, then flashes up: “We will drown all of you in blood.” A crude splatter of blood then appears on the U.S. flag to emphasize the point.

The militants have focused on territorial gains in parts of eastern Syria and northern Iraq, claiming them in its bid to establish a caliphate, or an Islamic state. But unlike al-Qaeda, which deemed this off-shoot too extreme, ISIS has not yet directly attacked the West.

[Reuters]

TIME Military

Dam Yankees: U.S. Steps Up Bombing in Northern Iraq

IRAQ-UNREST-KURDS-DAM
Smokes rises from U.S. air strikes near Mosul dam on Sunday. Ahmad Al-Ruhbye—AFP/Getty Images

But limiting strikes for political reasons may prove untenable

The Obama Administration made clear last week that its ban against U.S. “boots on the ground” inside Iraq only pertained to combat boots. Sunday, it went back to its dictionary and stretched the definition of “humanitarian” to include offensive bombing strikes against Islamist militants in northern Iraq.

That’s because ever since the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) seized the Mosul dam, it has had the power to release the reservoir behind it, turning the Tigris River downstream into Class V rapids with a 60-foot wall of water.

“The failure of the Mosul Dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians, endanger U.S. personnel and facilities, including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services to the Iraqi populace,” President Barack Obama said in a letter to congressional leaders.

The U.S. military launched 23 airstrikes on ISIS targets over the weekend, including 14 on Sunday. A fleet of fighter-bombers, bombers and drones took out nearly 20 ISIS vehicles—mostly U.S.-built armor and Humvees that ISIS captured from retreating Iraqi forces—on Sunday alone. An Iraq military spokesman said Monday that Iraqi special forces and Kurdish fighters had regained control of the dam, although that claim has not been confirmed.

“These operations are limited in their nature, duration, and scope,” Obama said, “and are being undertaken in coordination with and at the request of the government of Iraq.”

The weekend air strikes nearly doubled the number the U.S. has launched in Iraq since they began Aug. 8, and marked the most coordinated military effort between U.S. and Iraqi forces since the U.S. military left the country in 2011.

Pentagon fingers are crossed that the combination of U.S. air strikes and Iraqi ground operations will be sufficient to defeat ISIS. Defense officials, and the White House, are acutely aware that the American public has no appetite for deeper involvement—military or otherwise—in Iraq.

The operation makes military sense, but justifying it using the original two-prong test—Obama said Aug. 7 that the U.S. would attack targets in Iraq only “to protect our American personnel, and… to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians who are trapped on a mountain without food and water and facing almost certain death”—may prove too convenient.

“This policy of not dealing with it as an ecosystem I think is wrong,” Michigan Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told CBS on Sunday. “They have a long-term plan about where they’re going that would establish their caliphate from Beirut through Syria through Iraq.”

ISIS wants to create that caliphate from which it would seek to attack the U.S. and other targets in the west. Every time the Administration expands its military footprint in Iraq to deal with the threat—and justifies it on humanitarian grounds, or to protect U.S. personnel—it restrains its freedom to act the next time if stronger military action is required.

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