Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, offered his analysis two days after the beheading of American journalist James Foley. A video of Foley's execution by an unidentified soldier of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was posted on social media.
America cannot take a hands-off approach, Moore said of terrorist violence and genocide in a country the United States helped liberate from dictator Saddam Hussein more than a decade ago.
"When it comes to the slaughter in Iraq, we cannot show moral indifference," Moore told Baptist Press in a written statement. "This is both a humanitarian catastrophe and a national security emergency, and nearly everyone agrees that America bears a special responsibility -- Iraq War hawks will say it is because we failed to finish the job, and Iraq War doves will say it is because our action plunged the nation into chaos in a misguided war. This is an important debate to have, but not now.
"Instead, what is needed now are neither hawks, nor doves, but owls -- with the talons to fight injustice and the wisdom to know when to start, and when to stop," said Moore, who already had endorsed strong action by the United States to eliminate the ISIS threat.
His comments came as ISIS continued its efforts to establish a militant Islamic state encompassing Iraq and Syria. The terrorists have taken over significant portions of Iraq, where more than 4,400 U.S. service members died between 2003 and 2012. The Sunni Muslim militants that largely make up ISIS have executed or driven from their homes many Christians, Yazidis and others, especially in the northern part of the Middle Eastern country. ISIS also has threatened to attack the United States.
American airstrikes authorized by President Obama against ISIS continued Aug. 20. U.S. jets and drones performed 14 strikes near the Mosul Dam, the Pentagon reported. The toll included six ISIS Humvees and two armed trucks. The United States confirmed Aug. 18 that the Iraqi military had retaken the dam in northern Iraq after its capture by the terrorists. The U.S. has conducted 84 airstrikes since Obama authorized such military action Aug. 7.
The president reacted to Foley's Aug. 19 beheading by condemning ISIS and promising the United States would do what is necessary to protect its citizens. He described Foley's killing as a violent act "that shocks the conscience of the entire world."
Describing ISIS as a "cancer," Obama said the terrorist group "speaks for no religion."
"No just God would stand for what they did yesterday, and for what they do every single day," the president said Aug. 20. ISIS "has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt."
He added, "One thing we can all agree on is that a group like has no place in the 21st century."
Foley, 40, was a freelance journalist for GlobalPost and Agence France-Presse when he was taken captive nearly two years ago in Syria. ISIS initially demanded a ransom from Foley's family and GlobalPost of $132.5 million, the online news site reported to The Wall Street Journal.
In the video of Foley's execution, the ISIS solider showed another American -- Steven Sotloff, a freelance journalist for Time magazine -- and threatened his life. The Journal reported that about 20 journalists, many in the captivity of ISIS, are thought to be missing in Syria, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The Associated Press condemned Foley's execution.
"The murder of a journalist with impunity is a threat to a free press and democracy around the world," AP President Gary Pruitt said in a written statement.
The United States attempted to rescue Foley and other Americans from ISIS recently, but the hostages were not at the site targeted by the operation, the Department of Defense announced Aug. 20.
"We put the best of the United States military in harms' way to try and bring our citizens home," Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said of the rescue operation in a written release, adding, "The United States will not tolerate the abduction of our people, and will work tirelessly to secure the safety of our citizens and to hold their captors accountable."
The State Department has asked the Pentagon to send 300 more military service members to protect Americans in the Baghdad area, the Journal reported. The U.S. has about 900 military personnel already in Iraq for security and planning purposes.
Moore joined others in an open letter released Aug. 11 that called for the destruction of ISIS as a military force. The letter -- initiated by Robert George, a professor at Princeton University and vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom -- urged the United States and the international community to do what is necessary to enable local forces to protect Christians and minorities from the genocidal purge being conducted by ISIS.
"No options that are consistent with the principles of just war doctrine should be off the table," George, Moore and others wrote in the letter. "We further believe that the United States' goal must be more comprehensive than simply clamping a short-term lid on the boiling violence that is threatening so many innocents in path. Nothing short of the destruction of as a fighting force will provide long-term protection of victims."
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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