Politics & Policy

‘Over There’: Iraq

The beheading of James Foley sends a clear message about what is at stake.

Following his capture in Libya in 2011, the late journalist James Foley wrote a letter to Marquette Magazine, published by his alma mater, about his time in captivity. He wrote about the power of prayer: “I prayed [my mom] would know I was OK.” To keep his mind occupied, he prayed the rosary. Eighteen days into his captivity, he was given the opportunity to call home. He asked his mom, “Haven’t you felt my prayers?” After she read him a list of all the people praying for him, she asked, “Don’t you feel our prayers?”

James prayed. His mom prayed. The power of prayer and their faith in God gave them the strength to continue to hope. Freedom of religion is a constitutional right that is often taken for granted over here, but James Foley’s beheading reminds us that there are extremists around the world who will stop at nothing to take that right away. 

Last week, the conflict “over there” came home. When James Foley’s mom witnessed her son’s death via a gruesome YouTube video, she unwittingly joined thousands of mothers of many faiths who have lost their sons and daughters at the hands of the Islamic State. It showed up on our doorstep, took one of our own, and forced America to recognize that, if the Islamic State is not stopped once and for all, this will not be an isolated incident.

I recently joined the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, where I am fighting to ensure that the administration does everything possible to protect American lives and our freedoms from those who wish us harm. The alarming growth and military victories of the Islamic State, a terrorist group even more depraved and bloodthirsty than al-Qaeda, is a clear and present danger to America’s national security. And it is a reminder of how actions —and inactions — abroad impact our lives here at home.  

In 2011, our president jeopardized our homeland when he decided that acting on a campaign slogan, about troop withdrawal from Iraq, was more important than securing the fragile democracy gained through the Iraq surge. Against the advice of his generals and national-security advisers, President Obama withdrew all American troops from Iraq rather than negotiating a status-of-forces agreement. I supported the president’s decision to withdraw troops from Iraq, but I disagreed with his unwillingness to leave in place a small contingent of American forces that would have prevented the power vacuum that the Islamic State is now filling.

Months ago President Obama was informed of the Islamic State’s growing strength, but again he chose to ignore reality. Over the past few months, the Islamic State has left a wake of death and destruction, murdering innocents and occupying dams, oil fields, and refineries, which further fund its terror. Less than three years after the president’s decision to withdraw American troops, we are back in Iraq but under far worse circumstances. Even in the face of this palpable threat, the administration has been lackluster in its response and rightfully criticized for following a policy of containing rather than annihilating the Islamic State. I call on our president to engage, lead, and develop a credible foreign policy that shows the Islamic State and other wannabe actors in the region that America will not tolerate their evil ideology.

By all accounts, James Foley was a good man and a dedicated journalist. His captors coerced his last words, but we know from his life that his final act was one of prayer to a loving and merciful God — something his executioners could neither stop nor understand. As we all pray for his family and friends, we also pray for those still in captivity, and for all journalists who risk their lives to tell the stories of the oppressed and the persecuted. Let us also pray for our brave American soldiers who sacrifice “over there” so that we can keep our freedoms over here. 

— Representative Sean Duffy (R., Wisc.) is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where he serves on the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa.

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