As he attempts to counteract the characterizations of him as a “lame duck,” President Obama is facing an array of struggles. As the de facto head of the Democratic Party, he suffered an ignominious defeat in the 2014 midterm elections as Democratic candidates across the country were felled by a Republican tsunami that gave the GOP a sweeping mandate and control of the United States Senate. At home, the President is mired in a debate about immigration reform that puts him at odds with the newly empowered Republican congressional leadership. Our Commander-in-Chief is also desperately seeking to avoid a complete collapse of the nuclear talks with Iran, a sensitive international issue that is on the front burner of his foreign policy agenda.
Yet, for all of the political and policy problems that stand in President Obama’s way, there is one issue that essentially trumps everything else. The elephant in the room is the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or “ISIS” as it is commonly known.
What began as an offshoot of al Qaeda has morphed into one of the biggest terrorist threats facing the world today. Under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS is spreading its brand of terror far and wide. As a result of a brazen land grab that seemingly took everyone by surprise, ISIS now exerts control over large portions of northern and western Iraq and has solidified its presence and authority in Syria as well.
In what has become its modus operandi, ISIS routinely carries out mass killings and public executions. Earlier this week, we learned that ISIS beheaded Peter Kassig, an American aid worker, who became the fifth known Western hostage that was decapitated by ISIS in an unthinkable act of barbarism.
The horrific fate that befell Peter Kassig, as well as U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, are shocking not just by virtue of the gruesome fashion in which they were executed, but also by the manner in which we learned of their tragic ends.
In a testament to the sick and sadistic nature of this terrorist group, ISIS informed the world of these deaths by releasing videos showing the beheading of each of the hostages. The audacity of ISIS in proudly publicizing these ghastly murders is staggering, but it is their callous disregard for human life and their proclivity for pain and torture that is especially disconcerting.
What is remarkable is that despite President Obama’s efforts to combat ISIS through the use of targeted air strikes in Iraq and Syria, ISIS appears to be more powerful than ever.
Just one week ago, an audio recording of a man purporting to be Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was circulated, in which he openly mocked the United States and its coalition partners. Calling the U.S. “terrified, weak and powerless,” al-Baghdadi said that the American effort to destroy ISIS has been a “failure.”
At this juncture, there is a great degree of truth to that statement. We have seen indications that ISIS is expanding, not waning. In September, the CIA declared that although initial intelligence reports indicated that ISIS had approximately 10,000 fighters in its ranks, the number is actually in excess of 31,000 fighters.
Contrary to what you may think, ISIS does not just employ homegrown terrorists. As time goes on, they are drawing terror troops from all around the world. For example, in the video showing the beheading of Peter Kassig, there were men from England and France who were among the executioners. There are estimates that several thousand Westerners have signed up to join ISIS. The idea that foreign-born militants are gravitating to ISIS is a genuine cause for concern and further proof of the allure that this terrorist group has for individuals who possess a sick and twisted penchant for unadulterated evil.
The sophistication and adeptness that ISIS has demonstrated in the social media realm is remarkable. They skillfully utilize platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp to effectively disseminate their propaganda. The videos they circulate are semi-professional in nature. In an effort to reach a vast audience, ISIS sometimes posts statements and materials in multiple languages. We are able to somewhat track ISIS’s actions not necessarily because of American intelligence, but because ISIS is hiding in plain sight in the social media world for everyone to see. We are able to closely follow ISIS’ activities because they consciously and calculatedly make it easy for us to do so.
With a well-oiled PR machine and an infusion of new fighters eager to join their jihad, ISIS presents a real challenge to the United States, and, more specifically, to President Obama. The U.S. air strikes persist, but ISIS perseveres. There is of course the possibility that the President may send in ground troops to supplement the air strikes and attempt to hit the nucleus of ISIS’ terror operations. However, that directive may very well result in a prolonged military conflict that could have dire consequences for American forces.
As President Obama works to cement his legacy over the last two years of his presidency, the public nuisance that is ISIS is going to plague him throughout the duration of his tenure. Regardless of whether he focuses on domestic policy or sets his sights on accomplishments in the foreign policy arena, ISIS is going to cast a long shadow over the President’s endeavors. The grave threat that ISIS poses to the United States and to the world cannot be understated and cannot be overlooked.
ISIS may be sophisticated, but they are not invincible. If President Obama wants to fulfill his pledge to eradicate ISIS, the United States is going to have to do a better job both militarily and in the media. In order for the President to put ISIS on ice and freeze its ability to perpetrate acts of terror, it is going to take much more than air strikes that seemingly have little effect on this enigmatic terrorist organization. How we can best defeat ISIS may be open for debate, but the exigent need to do so is undisputed.
N. Aaron Troodler is an attorney and principal of Paul Revere Public Relations, a public relations and political consulting firm. Visit him on the Web at TroodlersTake.blogspot.com, www.PaulReverePR.com, or www.JewishWorldPR.com. You can also follow him on Twitter:@troodler
By N. Aaron Troodler, Esq.