ISIS insurgency in Iraq and Syria

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The group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is a Sunni off-shoot of al-Qaeda attempting to create a new Islamic state, free of the leadership of the Shiite government.[1] A common alternate name for the group is Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and the group calls itself Islamic State. This page will track the American response to ISIS as the group battles the Iraqi regime.


Following the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, the Iraqi security forces were not well-trained or well-equipped enough to stave off ISIS, which had grown in power due to their actions in the civil war in neighboring Syria. In 2012, a U.S. military spokesman in Iraq claimed, "if the Iraqi security forces are not able to put pressure on them, they could regenerate." ISIS' recruiting methods were made easier due to Prime Minister Maliki's use of power in suppressing Sunni dissent and taking political prisoners.[2] In 2014, following a period of poor relations with ISIS, al-Qaeda "disowned" the group after more than a decade of cooperation.[3]

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took control of the group in 2010. Baghdadi spent four years in a U.S. insurgent prison from 2005 to 2009 for his ties to al-Qaeda, creating valuable connections with fellow prisoners before joining and then leading ISIS. When he first took control of the group, it was operated in a way similar to organized crime syndicates, staying spread out and layered, to stay protected. However, over time ISIS has grown into a much larger-scale operation which takes control of large territories. By taking and holding territory, prison breaks helped boost manpower, captured military bases provided them with weaponry and strongholds and they took cash reserves from banks to help finance themselves. They also rely on some wealthy donors throughout the region.[2]

The goal of ISIS was to create an Islamic state for Sunni muslims where Sharia law can be enforced, uniting parts of Iraq and Syria where the Sunni minorities live. The Soufan Group, a political risk consultant firm, stated, "ISIS has become indisputably the most effective and ruthless terrorist organization in the world."[2]

Civilian death toll

The United Nations estimated that between January 1 and June 30, 2014, more than 5,500 civilians were killed in the ISIS offensive with more than 11,000 others injured. The toll is on pace to be much higher than the 7,800 civilians killed in the conflict in 2013. Another 1.2 million Iraqis had been forced from their homes at the time of the report. The report also examined the "systematic and egregious violations" of international law and war crimes including sexual violence, kidnappings, murders and attacks on religious worship locations.[4]

Attitude toward Christians

ISIS took over the city of Mosul, Iraq, on June 10, 2014.[5] By mid-July the Christian residents of Mosul were given an ultimatum -- convert to Islam, leave, pay a tax, or face "the sword," by July 18. On July 18, 2014, ISIS changed the ultimatum forcing all Christians to leave Mosul by the next day or face death. The islamic letter for "N" was spray-painted on Christians' doors and declared the properties as owned by the Islamic State. Most Christians fled to Kurdish territory to the north and east of Mosul, which was emptied of Christians for the first time in 1,600 years.[6] It was also reported on July 25, 2014, that ISIS had destroyed the Christian Tomb of Jonah in Mosul as well as previous reports that four shrines to Sunni Arab and Sufi figures and six Shiite mosques were destroyed.[7][8]

Christian genocide

Mark Arabo, a California businessman and Chaldean-American leader described the slaughtering of Christians by ISIS in an interview with CNN as a "Christian genocide." He said, "Christianity in Mosul is dead, and a Christian holocaust is in our midst. children are being beheaded, mothers are being raped and killed, and fathers are being hung."[9]

He continued describing the atrocities, "They are systematically beheading children. And mothers and fathers. The world hasn't seen an evil like this for generations." "There's actually a park in Mosul where they actually beheaded children and put their heads on a stick... this is crimes against humanity. They are doing the most horrendous, the most heart-breaking crimes that you can think of."[9]

Treatment of women

ISIS issued decrees on the clothing worn by women in their territory on July 25, 2014, stating that women needed to wear full-face veils, have their hands and feet covered at all times, wear clothes that don't fit tightly on their bodies and not wear perfume. Additionally, they were told not to walk in public without a male accompanying them. ISIS' explanation of the new rules claimed, "The conditions imposed on her clothes and grooming was only to end the pretext of debauchery resulting from grooming and overdressing. This is not a restriction on her freedom but to prevent her from falling into humiliation and vulgarity or to be a theatre for the eyes of those who are looking." They also announced the punishment for not following the restrictions, stating, "Anyone who is not committed to this duty and is motivated by glamour will be subject to accountability and severe punishment to protect society from harm and to maintain the necessities of religion and protect it from debauchery."[10]

Maliki ousted

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was ousted by the president of Iraq on August 11, 2014, a move that brought support from Obama and other heads of state around the world. Haider al-Abadi, of the same political party as Maliki, was nominated to replace Maliki in hopes of forming a more inclusive government to the region. Critics claimed Maliki made the situation worse by playing sectarian politics instead of maintaining a truly unifying government. Secretary of State John Kerry did worry, however, that Maliki would stir controversy in the area, suggesting, "The government formation process is critical in terms of sustaining stability and calm in Iraq. Our hope is that Mr Maliki will not stir those waters."[11]

On August 13, 2014, Maliki issued an address rejecting the president's move in ousting him as prime minister as unconstitutional and insisted a federal court hear the case before he would leave office. Maliki stated, "Why do we insist that this government continue and stay as is until a decision by the federal court is issued? It is a constitutional violation — a conspiracy planned from the inside or from out.[12]

New Iraqi cabinet

On September 8, 2014, a new cabinet was established in Iraq under Prime Minister al-Abadi, which allowed the government to move forward in establishing plans against ISIS.[13] U.S. Secretary Kerry spoke highly of the move, insisting it had "the potential to unite all of Iraq’s diverse communities."[14]

Yazidis in Sinjar Mountains

As many as 40,000 Iraqi Yazidis were surrounded in the Sinjar Mountains as they fled ISIS' advances. The U.S. carried out a humanitarian mission on August 7, 2014, to provide needed supplies to the Yazidis. The same day, President Barack Obama authorized the U.S. to carry out air strikes on ISIS targets surrounding the Sinjar Mountains in hopes of creating a way for the Yazidi people to escape ISIS.[15] The air strikes began the following day, continuing for two more days.[16]

On August 13, 2014, an ISIS commander claimed the group had taken more than 100 women and children hostages from the village of Sinjar while taking over the territory.[17]

The combination of United States air strikes and Kurdish forces allowed the Yazidis to escape the Sinjar Mountains on August 14, 2014. It was initially thought that U.S. ground forces might be used in the rescue operation, but following a reconnaissance mission by U.S. military advisers, it was determined that U.S. troops were not necessary.[18]

Mosul Dam air strikes

President Obama announced on August 17, 2014, U.S. air strikes would take place at Mosul Dam in an effort to allow Iraqi forces to capture it from ISIS. In the first two days, there were 23 air strikes in the area surrounding the Mosul Dam.[19] According to reports on the morning of August 18, 2014, Iraqi and Kurdish forces re-captured the Mosul Dam. If the dam had been destroyed by ISIS forces, parts of Baghdad could have experienced significant flooding.[20]

Foley and Sotloff beheadings

On August 19, 2014, ISIS released a video portraying the beheading of who the group claimed to be American photojournalist James Wright Foley, who was taken captive in Syria in 2012. The ISIS operative in the video claimed the killing was a result of America's involvement helping Iraqi forces fight against ISIS advances. He also stated more assassinations would take place if the United States remained involved after forcing Foley to read a statement placing blame on America for his own death. The group also claimed to have journalist Steven Sotloff. In a statement, a spokesperson for the National Security Council said they were investigating the authenticity of the video and added, "If genuine, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends."[21]

According to a New York Times report on August 20, 2014, ISIS was holding three more Americans hostage in an effort to get the United States government to pay a $132 million ransom for Foley's release. While some European countries gave in to ISIS' demands, the President Obama was not willing to pay the ransom. He did, however, order a secret rescue mission in the summer of 2014, though the mission did not succeed in rescuing the hostages. In the video showing the beheading of Foley, the ISIS insurgent showed Sotloff, after Foley had been killed, and stated, "The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision." ISIS demanded millions in addition to the release of prisoners in exchange for the other Americans being held. British citizens were also in captivity, as the British government also would not negotiate with ISIS for their releases. A former New York Times correspondent and captive of the Taliban argued that the policy could cost more lives, though the administration believed dealing with ISIS could perpetuate the problem. The former captive, David Rohde, stated, "The payment of ransoms and abduction of foreigners must emerge from the shadows. It must be publicly debated. American and European policy makers should be forced to answer for their actions."[22]

Since 2009, over 50 foreigners had been captured by Islamic terror groups. Foley was only the second American executed since 2002, when journalist David Pearl was executed by al-Qaeda.[22]

On September 2, 2014, another video was released by ISIS, this one portraying the death of journalist Steven Sotloff. Sotloff, like Foley, was beheaded after being forced to read statements prepared by members of ISIS. Sotloff stated, "Obama, your foreign policy of intervention in Iraq was supposed to be for the preservation of American lives and interests, so why is that I am paying the price of your interference with my life. Am I not an American citizen? You’ve spent billions of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars and we’ve lost thousands of our troops in our previous fighting against the Islamic State, so where is the people’s interest in reigniting this war?"[23]

Sotloff family

The family of Sotloff claimed that information on his whereabouts when he snuck into Syria was sold to ISIS by rebel forces, for as much as $50,000, according to a source the family has "on the ground." A spokesperson for the family claimed, "Somebody at the border crossing made a phone call to ISIS, and they set up a fake checkpoint with many people. Steve and his people that he went in with could not escape."[24] The administration denied any knowledge of a sale happening but noted the investigation was ongoing, suggesting, "Based on the information that has been provided to me, I don't believe that is accurate. But I do know, at the same time, that this is the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation. So this is something that they're looking into all aspects of this, including how Mr. Sotloff may have come into the hands of [ISIS]." The family was critical of the administration for its failure to secure Sotloff and other prisoners held by ISIS.[25]

Obama's ISIS strategy

President Barack Obama addressing the nation on ISIS and the U.S. strategy to defeat the group on September 10, 2014.
During a September 10, 2014 national address President Barack Obama outlined air strikes, including in Syria, an increased number of U.S. military advisers in Iraq, aid for Iraqi ground forces and continued humanitarian support to those displaced by ISIS in an attempt to "degrade, and ultimately destroy" the terrorist group. Obama stated that with the help of a "broad coalition" and assistance from the new Iraqi government, the United States would help eliminate the group. The national address came on the heels of much debate during the congressional recess on the proper way to deal with ISIS, another issue covered in the address, with Obama calling on Congress to grant the administration provisions to help Syrian opposition forces battle ISIS in Syria.[26]

The president explained, "If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven," but he did insist that the U.S. would not be involved in another ground war in Iraq. He received support across the aisle from his plan due to what had been perceived by Republicans as a weak response to a strong terrorist network. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) stated, "The President's plan announced this evening is an encouraging step in the right direction."[26] Meanwhile, Iraqi Christians, who had been heavily targeted by ISIS, were disappointed, claiming that the lack of ground forces and using only air strikes would not be enough to stop the group.[27]

Secretary of State John Kerry was to meet with Middle East diplomats on September 11, 2014, in order to establish the coalition, though it was not believed to be an easy sell to those countries. Included in the countries visiting with Kerry in Saudi Arabia were Turkey, Qatar, Jordan, United Arab Emirates and Egypt.[28]

Legal authority for air strikes

On September 12, 2014, it was reported that the Obama administration believed both the 2001 authorization of force against those responsible for the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, and the subsequent 2002 authorization for the war in Iraq were enough to avoid the hurdle posed by the War Powers Act. Under the War Powers Act, any military actions not approved by Congress within 60 days, must halt at the close of that period. The Iraq resolution, in particular, provided statutory authority for air strikes. A senior administration official explained, "The president may rely on the 2001 A.U.M.F. as statutory authority for the military airstrike operations he is directing. As we have explained, the 2002 Iraq A.U.M.F. would serve as an alternative statutory authority basis on which the president may rely for military action in Iraq. Even so, our position on the 2002 A.U.M.F. hasn’t changed and we’d like to see it repealed."[29]

Some members of Congress dispute that the president has the authority to carry out the air strikes. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) insisted that a vote be taken, stating, "People have some legitimate questions. We ought to ask the questions before we get involved, rather than, you know, once we're in the middle of something." McGovern passed a bill in July 2014, that read no forces could be deployed or maintained in Iraq without "specific statutory authorization for such use." However, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) would not support a push to vote, explaining, "Hopefully, we don't have to go beyond what the president is doing now [and] we don't need that vote. But we stand ready to have that discussion." Other members of Congress urging a vote included, Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Elizabeth Esty (D-CT), John Garamendi (D-CA), Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Jim McDermott (D-WA).[30]

Coalition members

The Saudi Arabian government agreed on September 10, 2014, to host Syrian rebels in order to train and equip them for the fight against ISIS. President Obama asked Congress for $500 million to fund the training and equipment. A senior administration official stated, "We certainly are challenging members of Congress to put aside their partisan affiliations and give the president the authority he needs."[31]

The administration chose retired Marine General John Allen to lead and coordinate the coalition forces fighting ISIS. He was previously the top American commander in Afghanistan, and he served in Iraq prior to that. When asked about ISIS in an August 2014 interview, Allen said, "What we’re facing in northern Iraq is only partly a crisis about Iraq,” he added. “It is about the region and potentially the world as we know it."[32]

The administration announced on September 15, 2014, there would be no military coordination with Iran in regard to the coalition's plan to destroy ISIS. A State Department official explained, "I am not going to outline every diplomatic discussion. But we are not and will not coordinate militarily. We will be continuing those talks on the nuclear issue later this week in New York. There may be another opportunity on the margins in the future to discuss Iraq." Iranian Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke out against the coalition, stating, "American officials' comments on forming an anti-Islamic State (alliance) are blank, hollow and self-serving, and contradictions in their behaviours and statements attest to this fact."[33]

Following is a list of coalition members and their contributions.

  • Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott agreed on September 13, 2014, to provide aircraft and military advisers to the effort, but stated no ground forces would be provided.[34]
  • Iraqi President al-Abadi pledged to continue fighting ISIS as well as halt indiscriminate bombings of areas held by the group in an effort to regain the trust of sunni muslims who were previously alienated from the government.[35]

ISIS cash flow cutoff

It was reported on September 13, 2014, that the administration was attempting to cut off the cash flow of ISIS by talking with the Turkish government. ISIS, one of the most well-funded terrorist groups in history, established a system of sending Iraqi oil across the border to Turkey where the oil is sold on the black market. Turkish government officials said they could not openly be involved with the fight against ISIS because the group held 49 Turkish diplomats hostage in Iraq. The government also turned down the opportunity to sign a resolution in Saudi Arabia condemning ISIS under the same pretext. A senior adviser for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) commented on the difficult situation posed by Turkey's lack of action, stating, "Turkey in many ways is a wild card in this coalition equation. It’s a great disappointment: There is a real danger that the effort to degrade and destroy ISIS is at risk. You have a major NATO ally, and it is not clear they are willing and able to cut off flows of funds, fighters and support to ISIS." The administration did not rule out bombing the oil shipments while they're en route to Turkey, noting that the shipments were tracked, but due to the sensitive nature of Turkey's situation, the Obama administration shied away from public criticisms.[36]

Estimates on the amount of oil produced by Iraqi wells range from 25,000 to 40,000 barrels per day, which could bring as much as $2 million in return on the black market. In addition to the oil smuggling, ISIS imposed taxes on businesses in their territories of between 10 and 20 percent of their daily profits which was estimated to be worth as much as $1 million per day.[36] A September 11, 2014 estimate by the Central Intelligence Agency placed between 20,000 and 31,500 members of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The numbers were higher than the previous estimate of 10,000, with the groups successes in the two countries helping recruitment.[37]


Starting June 15, 2014, military operations in Iraq cost an average of $7.5 million per day, according to an August 29, 2014 report by the Pentagon press secretary. The spokesperson stated on the $562 million price tag on the operation to that point, "As our [operational tempo] and our activities have intensified, so, too, has the cost. It changes every day."[38]

Possible ramifications

Three nations

Kurdish defenders of northern Iraq believed the country was on track to split back into three territories, as it was prior to the British uniting the territories into modern day Iraq. One colonel, defending the makeshift border, stated, "When the British set up this country in the 1920s they didn't do a good job. Before they were three provinces – Baghdad, Mosul and Basra. I think it will be three provinces again. History will go back to its original format." The Kurdish forces have been slowly staking out the territory where their people, as well as Christians, Yazidis, Turkmens and Arabs, live along with oil rich locations in the area. On July 11, 2014, they announced their withdrawal from the Iraqi government, choosing instead to attempt to defend their own borders from the ISIS threat.[39]

Involvement in Syria

Because ISIS was making advances in both Iraq and Syria, the Obama administration did not rule out air strikes in Syria in an effort to rid the Middle East of ISIS. Surveillance flights began on August 26, 2014, over Syria to get a grasp on the group's pressure in the country. While bombings of ISIS locations in Syria would potentially help Syrian Prime Minister Bashar al-Assad in his regime's civil war, administration officials were quick to point out that no alliances would be made, with White House press secretary Josh Earnest stating, "We are not interested in trying to help the Assad regime." British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond reiterated Earnest's statement, explaining, "We may very well find that we are fighting, on some occasions, the same people that [Assad] is but that doesn't make us his ally. It would not be practical, sensible or helpful to even think about going down that route."[40]

Assad's foreign minister warned the United States about unauthorized air strikes, claiming, "Any strike which is not coordinated will be considered as aggression." President Obama met with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on August 25, 2014, to discuss the possibilities of expanding the air strikes into Syria. Dempsey commented, "Can they be defeated without addressing that part of their organisation which resides in Syria? The answer is no. That will have to be addressed on both sides of what is essentially at this point a nonexistent border."[40] Syrian rebel forces, the Free Syrian Army also warned the United States against air strikes but from the standpoint that the air strikes would do too little, merely agitating ISIS. A spokesperson explained, "Airstrikes against ISIS inside Syria will not be helpful. Airstrikes will not get rid of ISIS. Airstrikes are like just tickling ISIS."[41]

As of August 25, 2014, ISIS had taken over three Syrian military bases, including an air base, and held the entire province of Raqqa, which borders Turkey.[42]

On September 10, 2014, President Obama announced permission for the bombing of ISIS locations in Syria.[26] He did acknowledge, according to the New York Times on September 13, 2014, that if American fighter planes were fired upon by the Assad regime, the United States would proceed to bomb all of Syria's ground-to-air missile defense systems, and Assad would possibly be forced out of his leadership position.[43]

U.S. border crossing

See also: 2014 illegal immigration surge

In an exchange between Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Francis Taylor, an undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, on September 10, 2014, McCain questioned whether ISIS, was attempting to cross the southern border of the U.S. in order to carry out terrorist attacks. While Taylor pointed out to the Washington Free Beacon, "There is no credible intelligence to suggest that there is an active plot by ISIL to attempt to cross the southern border," the discussion between he and McCain revealed social media exchanges encouraging ISIS militants to cross the border into the country. McCain was not satisfied with Taylor's confidence that border intelligence would halt any such attempts, leading Taylor to state, "If I gave you the impression I thought the border security was what it needed to be to protect against all the risks coming across the state that’s not what I meant to say."[44]

DOJ local counterterrorism program

Attorney General Eric Holder announced a new program on a September 15, 2014 video address that the department was teaming up with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the White House and the National Counterterrorism Center to form a program that would provide local religious and civic leaders the ability to provide information about religious extremists the leaders deem may be involved in terrorist activities. Holder explained further, stating, "We have established processes for detecting American extremists who attempt to join terror groups abroad. And we have engaged in extensive outreach to communities here in the U.S. — so we can work with them to identify threats before they emerge, to disrupt homegrown terrorists, and to apprehend would-be violent extremists."[45]

While the number of Americans fighting alongside ISIS was unknown as of September 15, 2014, two were confirmed dead from air strikes in Iraq with total estimates ranging from 12 to 100.[45]

Legislation proposed

Syrian rebel training funding

House Republicans announced a stopgap funding bill on September 15, 2014, delaying the need to pass a full federal budget until December 11, 2014. It would also provide funding for the training of Syrian rebel forces. The bill, produced by the Armed Services Committee, focuses heavily on the tracking of the number of trainees and weapons, how well the trainees do on the battlefield and whether the trainees have terrorist ties. Whether or not they have terrorist ties would not exclude a person from being trained, however, because it could make it more difficult to recruit trainees. It also laid out the type of equipment that would be provided to the rebels. An aide commented on the arms, stating that the U.S. was providing them for the purpose of being "effective on the ground but not equipping them to be a long-term threat to the U.S. and its allies." [46]

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel would be required to provide 15 days notice prior to the start of the program and give Congress full reports every 90 days. Because the bill is a stopgap funding bill, the funding provided by it was set to end on either December 11, 2014, or when the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act was passed.[46] White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest commented on the administration's push to get Congress to pass the bill, stating, "We’ve seen public statements from Democrats and Republicans in senior positions both in the House and the Senate indicate that they support giving the administration the necessary authority to ramp up our assistance to the Syrian opposition by training and equipping them. So we’re gratified by that show of bipartisan public support for this urgent priority."[47]

Bill's passage

The Syria amendment to the stopgap continuing resolution was passed by the House on September 17, 2014, by a vote of 273-156 allowing the training and arming of Syrian rebels to fight against ISIS. While the majorities of both parties voted in support of the bill's passage, 85 Democrats and 71 Republicans voted against the measure.[48][49] The bill reached the Senate on September 18, where it passed by a vote of 78-22. Below is the list of senators voting in opposition to the bill, like in the House, a bipartisan group.[50]

Democratic Party Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)

Democratic Party Mark Begich (D-AK)

Democratic Party Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

Democratic Party Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

Democratic Party Patrick Leahy (D-VT)

Democratic Party Joe Manchin (D-WV)

Democratic Party Ed Markey (D-MA)

Democratic Party Chris Murphy (D-CT)

Democratic Party Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)

Republican Party John Barrasso (R-WY)

Republican Party Tom Coburn (R-OK)

Republican Party Mike Crapo (R-ID)

Republican Party Ted Cruz (R-TX)

Republican Party Mike Enzi (R-WY)

Republican Party Dean Heller (R-NV)

Republican Party Mike Lee (R-UT)

Republican Party Jerry Moran (R-KS)

Republican Party Rand Paul (R-KY)

Republican Party Jim Risch (R-ID)

Republican Party Pat Roberts (R-KS)

Republican Party Jeff Sessions (R-AL)

Independent Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

Visa waiver program

Rep. Mac Thornberry expressed his worry of members of ISIS reaching the United States using western passports, stating, "The biggest fear is that there are 10,000 to 12,000 foreign fighters that have joined ISIS and various estimates but many of them have Western passports. They're either American or they're Western European passports. So they can come here to the United States homeland without a visa. And they can bring ... what they've learned about bomb-making and about assassinations with them here at home."[51] The visa waiver program, run by the U.S. Department of State, was designed to draw high spending foreigners to the United States for visits. A bill proposed by Reps. Joe Heck (R-NV) and Mike Quigley (D-IL) would expand the program, which covered visitors from more than 36 countries, to include more South American countries, European countries and Israel. The sponsors of the bill explained in a February 2014 op-ed, "Each overseas visitor spends an average of nearly $4,500 per trip to the U.S., adding nearly $130 billion to the economy in 2012. One American job is created for every 33 international visitors—meaning over one million domestic jobs were supported by inbound travel in 2012. [The Visa Waiver Program] expansion itself has a proven, immediate and marked economic benefit; in the year after the program was expanded to South Korea, spending in the U.S. by visitors from that affluent country more than tripled, according to a forthcoming study from the U.S. Travel Association." Responding to Thornberry's concerns, White House deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes, claimed, "For Americans in the homeland, I think what we'd say is we monitor very closely whether or not [ISIS] will seek to develop plots that are aimed at the West, aimed at beyond this geographic area where they have been operating."[52]

Syrian bombing permission

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) announced on September 2, 2014, he would propose a piece of legislation allowing President Obama permission to begin bombing key ISIS locations in Syria. His was the first announcement of any proposals aimed at permitting the administration to use air strikes in Syria, but it was expected following the second beheading of an American journalist by the terror group. Nelson commented on the proposal, stating, "This will ensure there’s no question that the president has the legal authority he needs to use airstrikes in Syria. We must go after ISIS right away because the U.S. is the only one that can put together a coalition to stop this group that’s intent on barbaric cruelty."[53]

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) stepped forward with a proposal on September 3, 2014, that would authorize the president's use of force against ISIS as well as any other extremist terrorist groups in an effort to stop ISIS. On the legislation, he stated, "This resolution would provide clear authority for the president and our military, working with coalition partners, to go after these terrorists, whether in Syria, Iraq or elsewhere. We cannot continue operating on outdated authorities passed 13 years ago; it is time for this Congress to vote."[54] Wolf also announced that he would propose legislation repealing the War Powers Resolution, replacing it with a requirement that the president only "consult" with Congress before taking military action requiring more than seven days. It would also require Congress to pass an approval resolution within 30 days.[55]

Congressional approval of air strikes

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle were in disagreement over the need to pass congressional approval of the administration's air strikes in Iraq as well as any future strikes on ISIS. Sens.Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Carl Levin (D-MI) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) each stated on September 8, 2014, that gaining congressional approval was not necessary for the actions taken by President Barack Obama, with Levin claiming, "I think the president has an abundant amount of authority to conduct operations. It would be good to have Congress on board. I don’t think the War Powers Act is constitutional. If Congress doesn’t like what he’s doing, we can always cut the money off."Members such as Tim Kaine (D-VA), Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Rand Paul (D-KY) disagreed and continued to push for a vote. Paul argued, "It would show a disregard for the Constitution and for the history of our country."[56]

Congressional leadership did not want to take quick action, bringing a vote to the floor, with one republican aide stating, "We want to wait and see what he’s going to say to the four leaders and what he’s going to say to the nation,” a GOP aide said. “How he lays out his strategy will determine how our guys and members of Congress respond.[57] Reid backed up that sentiment, saying, "Tomorrow the president is addressing the nation. That doesn’t happen very often. On Thursday afternoon we’re having a briefing here from the administration on what’s going on in the Middle East. I’m going to wait and get the facts before I jump off into something that you read on the Internet someplace."[58]

While some members in tighter re-election campaigns were wary of a vote prior to November elections, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) came out strongly in favor of the vote, even going so far as threatening to use a procedural workaround if Republican Majority Leader John Boehner did not put a vote on the calendar. The procedural workaround would force a congressional debate on the issue. McGovern defended his threat, explaining, "We have boots on the ground, even though everybody says we don't want any boots on the ground. We're doing more than just protecting U.S. personnel on the ground. And when I read the newspapers, we're talking about a multi-year commitment," McGovern added. "So there's a role for Congress in this, and we need to make sure that we don't … shirk our constitutional responsibility. And I think most people feel that way."[59]

Citizenship and passport rejections

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Ted Poe (R-TX) all proposed bills aimed at revoking the passports and/or citizenship of anyone connected with ISIS or any other foreign terrorist organizations. Cruz introduced his bill to the U.S. Senate on September 8, 2014, while Poe and Bachmann introduced theirs to the House the following day. Bachmann said of her proposal, "Those who have joined a foreign terrorist organization have taken up arms against the United States and our very way of life. By turning against their country, their passports should be revoked and if they’re naturalized citizens, they should lose their citizenship."[60]


Obama administration reactions

President Barack Obama
June 12, 2014: While reviewing options in dealing with increasing violence in Iraq by ISIS, President Barack Obama stated, "What we’ve seen over the last couple of days indicates Iraq’s going to need more help." White House Press Secretary Jay Carney cleared up the comments by insisting the president did not mean sending soldiers back to Iraq, suggesting, "We don’t believe that that is the approach that we should take in this case."[61]

A White House spokesperson reporting on Vice President Joe Biden's discussion with Prime Minister Maliki, stated that Biden, "made clear that the United States is prepared to continue to intensify and accelerate security support and cooperation with Iraq, under the Strategic Framework Agreement, to confront the urgent and growing threat posed by ISIL."[61]

June 16, 2014: Secretary of State John Kerry explained that the United States would be willing to listen if Iran wanted to help end the violence against Iraq's government. He stated, "We're open to discussions if there is something constructive that can be contributed by Iran, if Iran is prepared to do something that is going to respect the integrity and sovereignty of Iraq and ability of the government to reform."[62]

June 21, 2014: Secretary Hagel responded to whether Afghanistan was likely to have the same struggles as Iraq after U.S. troops were withdrawn, claiming, "First, Afghanistan is not Iraq, internally, historically, ethnically, religiously. Second, there is strong support in Afghanistan today for America’s continued [presence] as well as our NATO ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] there."[63]

July 6, 2014: Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson admitted he was "concerned" about the possible threats posed by ISIS and heightened U.S. airport security in countries that had direct flights to the U.S.[64]

August 8, 2014: While reiterating that the administration would not be sending troops into Iraq, Press Secretary Earnest insisted that the White House was not seeking additional funding for the conflict, explaining, "There are many challenges facing the people of Iraq right now, and it’s the view of the president that those challenges cannot be solved by the American military."[65]

August 12, 2014: President Obama pledged support to Haider al-Abadi, upon being announced as a nominee to become Iraq's new prime minister, "There is no American military solution to the long-term crisis in Iraq. The only lasting solution is for Iraqis to come together and to form an inclusive government, one that represents the legitimate interests of all Iraqis and one that can unify the country’s fight against ISIL."[66]

Secretary of State John Kerry also stated that the U.S. would support the new government regime in different ways, but he drew the line with the topic of sending troops back, claiming, "There will be no reintroduction of American combat forces into Iraq. Nobody, I think, is looking forwards to a return to the road that we’ve travelled." Kerry also noted talks with Australian Defense Minister David Johnston aimed at working out the provision of humanitarian aid to parts of Iraq, as well as developing a plan on how to handle fighting jihadists who wish to return to their home countries following the war.[67]

President Obama reportedly called lawmakers' criticisms of his policies in Syria "horseshit," according to an article by the Daily Beast. The criticism came after Obama proposed a $500 million plan to provide arms to some moderate opposition factions in Syria, who were fighting the Assad regime. The Central Intelligence Agency had begun providing some weapons to the groups since 2013, but Obama defended the administration's actions, stating, "This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards."[68]

August 13, 2014: Kerry told reporters U.S. military personnel were looking into the idea of a rescue operation to get the trapped Yazidis being held on a mountain in Iraq. He stated, "Well, that's exactly what we're assessing," Kerry responded. "This is precisely what the team that [President Obama] sent in is prepared to do. We will make a very rapid and critical assessment, because we understand it's urgent to try and move those people off the mountain. And I hope we can have more to report in short order."[69]

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes announced U.S. ground troops were still an option in attempting to free the Yazidis trapped by ISIS on Mt. Sinjar, explaining, "We don’t believe it’s sustainable to just have, you know, permanent airdrops to this population on the mountain. Some of them have been able to escape but, again, we want to get options in place to move them to a safer place."[70]

While the White House was considering options, the Department of Defense released a statement downplaying the number of people stranded on Mt. Sinjar, as well as the concerns about their physical conditions. The spokesperson discussed a team of U.S. soldiers who provided an assessment of the humanitarian situation of the Yazidis, claiming, "The Yazidis who remain are in better condition than previously believed and continue to have access to the food and water that we have dropped. Based on this assessment the interagency has determined that an evacuation mission is far less likely. Additionally, we will continue to provide humanitarian assistance as needed and will protect U.S. personnel and facilities."[71]

August 14, 2014: The Pentagon's press secretary defended action in Iraq as trying to stop a genocide, claiming, "We believe that the risk of genocide was real. We were, at the outset, talking about tens of thousands of these refugees who were being chased and slaughtered and fired upon by ISIL." He continued suggesting that while the administration's actions may have stopped ISIS from killing the Yazidi people on Mount Sinjar, "We’re not taking our eye off the ball in terms of humanitarian suffering in Iraq. Nobody’s doing high-fives here at the Pentagon because there are fewer people on the mountain than we thought. There’s no happy dances here because we think the situation is better; … we understand there continues to be human suffering in Iraq.[72]

August 17, 2014: President Obama expanded the airstrikes in Iraq to target the Mosul Dam, a strategic location held by ISIS forces. White House staff sent a letter to Congress explaining, "The mission is consistent with the president’s directive that the U.S. military protect U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq, since the failure of the Mosul Dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians and threaten U.S. personnel and facilities — including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad."[19]

August 20, 2014: Responding to Foley's beheading, John Kerry condemned ISIS, stating, "The world must know that the United States of America will never back down in the face of such evil. [ISIS] and the wickedness it represents must be destroyed, and those responsible for this heinous, vicious atrocity will be held accountable.[73]

President Obama ensured that he would seek justice for Foley's execution, stating, "The United States of America will continue to do what we must to do protect our people. We will be vigilant and we will be relentless. When people harm Americans anywhere, we do what is necessary to make sure justice is done." He then went on to criticize the terrorist group, suggesting, "ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt. They may claim out of expediency that they are at war with the United States or the West, but the fact is they terrorize their neighbors and offer them nothing but an endless slavery to their empty vision and the collapse of any definition of civilized behavior." He continued, "ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just god would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings."[74]

August 21, 2014: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the launch of a criminal investigation into Foley's execution, insisting, "Those who would perpetrate such acts need to understand something. This Justice Department, this Department of Defense, this nation — we have long memories and our reach is very wide. We will not forget what happened and people will be held accountable, one way or the other."[75]

Defense Secretary Hagel claimed ISIS was more than "just a terrorist group," and warned that they pose a serious threat. He explained, "[ISIL] is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen. They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded."[76]

August 25, 2014: Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, released a statement aimed at easing worries that ISIS was infiltrating the United States, suggesting, "I can tell you with great clarity and certainty that if that threat existed inside of Syria that it would certainly be my strong recommendation that we would deal with it. I have every confidence that the president of the United States would deal with it."[77]

Former Central Intelligence Agency Director Michael Hayden warned not to take ISIS lightly, claiming, "We’ve underestimated these guys in the past … a failure of imagination before 9/11. We knew al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. We just didn’t think it would be a Nigerian on an airplane over Detroit. I wouldn’t underestimate these folks." He continued, "I think they’re quite strong regionally, and I think they have global ambitions. They haven’t quite shown that global capacity yet."[78]

August 26, 2014: President Obama, after beginning reconnaissance flights over Syria, said of ISIS, "America does not forget, our reach is long, we are patient, justice will be done. Rooting out a cancer like ISIL won't be easy and it won't be quick."[40]

August 28, 2014: The president insisted Congress would be involved in the process as the administration determined how best to move forward against ISIS, but he admitted a plan was not yet developed, stating, "I don't want to put the cart before the horse. We don't have a strategy yet." He continued, insisting, "We are gonna work politically and diplomatically with folks in the region. And we're gonna cobble together the kind of coalition that we need for a long-term strategy as soon as we are able to fit together the military, political and economic components of that strategy. There will be a military aspect to that. And it's gonna be important for Congress to know what that is, in part because it may cost some money."[79] In response to criticism received over Obama's comment on not having a strategy, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest attempted to clarify, stating, "Our strategy is much broader than just the use of military force," claiming the administration had already been carrying out a "comprehensive strategy" for defeating ISIS.[80]

August 29, 2014: In response to Britain raising their terror threat level, the White House responded with Earnest stating, "As it relates to the United States' national terror alert system, I don’t anticipate at this point that there’s a plan to change that level." He further explained, "We’ve been coordinating closely with our allies, both the Brits but others in Europe, about countering this threat and mitigating it. We’ve been doing that by cooperating through law enforcement channels, through national security channels but also through intelligence channels as well." Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson defended the administration's decision, stating that national security officials were "unaware of any specific, credible threat to the U.S. homeland from ISIL." Johnson then explained the measures that were being taken, insisting, "This government, in close collaboration with our international partners, has also taken a series of steps to track foreign fighters who travel in and out of Syria, and we are contemplating additional security measures concerning foreign fighters.[81]

September 2, 2014: Upon being asked about the beheading of journalist Steven Sotloff, the second American journalist to be killed by ISIS while in captivity, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest stated, "I’m not in a position to confirm the authenticity of the video or the reports since I just walked out here. If there is a video that has been released, it is something that will be analyzed very carefully by the U.S. government and our intelligence officials to determine its authenticity."[82]

September 3, 2014: President Obama issued a statement regarding Sotloff's death in captivity, confirming that the video was real, "Overnight, our government determined that tragically Steven [Sotloff] was taken from us in a horrific act of violence." He also explained, "It’s not only that we’re going to be bringing to justice those who perpetrated this terrible crime against these two fine young men, but more broadly the United States will continue to lead a regional and international effort against the barbaric and ultimately empty vision that ISIL represents and that’s going to take some time, but we’re going to get it done,” Obama said. “I’m very confident of it."[83]

Vice President Biden, speaking before a crowd at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard claimed the administration would track down ISIS, stating, "When people harm Americans, we don't retreat, we don't forget. We take care of those who are grieving, and when that's finished, they [ISIS] should know — we will follow them to the gates of hell, until they are brought to justice, because hell is where they will reside." He gave the speech at the same location he told a crowd that he would chase Osama bin Laden "to the gates of hell" during a vice presidential debate in 2012.[84]

Defense Secretary Hagel defended President Obama's statement that ISIS needed to be destroyed stating, "It's not contain. It's exactly what the president said: degrade and destroy." He then went on to explain the perception that the administration did not have a plan for dealing with ISIS, claiming, "We can't take a chance ... on saying, well, let's technically define this, is it a real threat today or tomorrow, or is it going to be in six months. That's the way the threats don't work in little, neat boxes and emanate on our time frame. They emanate on their time frame."[85]

September 10, 2014: President Obama addressed the nation, setting forth a strategy for dealing with ISIS, which included the proliferation of air strikes to Syria. He stated, "I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven." He also stated that ISIS was "not Islamic," claiming "no religion condones killing innocent victims."[86]

September 11, 2014: Secretary Kerry, speaking about President Obama's plans to deal with ISIS, noted that the U.S. was not getting involved in a war, stating, "What we are doing is engaging in a very significant counterterrorism operation. It's going to go on for some period of time. If somebody wants to think about it as being a war with ISIL, they can do so, but the fact is it's a major counterterrorism operation that will have many different moving parts."[87]

September 13, 2014: President Obama issued a statement regarding the death of British citizen David Haines at the hands of ISIS, claiming, "The United States stands shoulder to shoulder tonight with our close friend and ally in grief and resolve. We will work with the United Kingdom and a broad coalition of nations from the region and around the world to bring the perpetrators of this outrageous act to justice, and to degrade and destroy this threat to the people of our countries, the region and the world."[88]

September 14, 2014: White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough claimed ISIS "stands for nothing" during an interview following the beheading of British citizen David Haines. He also defended President Obama's plan to work with coalition forces, stating, "It’s going to be Iraqi and other boots on the ground that are bringing this fight to ISIL."[89]

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden claimed up to 5,000 Americans could be in Iraq and Syria by the end of 2014, but acknowledged they would be support personnel, not foot soldiers. He explained, "I think we will at some point. It might be through covert action rather than more overt activity,” he said. “I actually think we will end up with small American special operations forces active within this broad theater in Syria and Iraq."[90]

September 15, 2014: White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest commented on the administration's push to get Congress to push through the stopgap funding bill that would provide money to train Syrian rebel forces, stating, "We’ve seen public statements from Democrats and Republicans in senior positions both in the House and the Senate indicate that they support giving the administration the necessary authority to ramp up our assistance to the Syrian opposition by training and equipping them. So we’re gratified by that show of bipartisan public support for this urgent priority."[47]

Republican reactions

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)
June 12, 2014: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was disappointed in the lack of immediate action by the administration and suggested, "Everybody in his national security team, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ought to be replaced. It’s a colossal failure of American security policy."[61]

June 13, 2014: Sens. McCain, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bob Corker (R-TN) called for air strikes of ISIS with Graham stating, "Our most immediate priority must be to reverse the advance of a terrorist force that is more radical, violent, and ambitious than Al-Qaeda. We see no way to achieve this goal without U.S. air strikes."[91]

June 15, 2014: Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) claimed on Fox News that thousands of Americans and westerners had joined ISIS and they could have "the capability to tap people with Western passports to send them back to Europe and the United States for terrorist activity."[92]

June 18, 2014: Prior to a meeting with House and Senate leadership and President Obama, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) stated his desire to learn the administration's overall strategy for the Iraqi conflict, insisting, "What I’m hoping to hear from the president today is the broader strategy for how we help keep the freedom we paid dearly for the people of Iraq. It’s more than one step here. I’m looking for the overall strategy."[93]

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)

July 8, 2014: After meeting with the Defense Secretary Hagel and the Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, Sen. McCain again voiced his frustration about the lack of a plan of how to ease tensions in Iraq. McCain stated, "There isn’t a strategy for countering the largest enclave for terrorism in history on the Iraq-Syria border. They will be planning attacks on the United States. So we should be taking actions to remove that threat."[94]

August 9, 2014: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said that President Barack Obama must seek congressional authorization if the airstrikes are to continue against ISIS forces in Iraq. Cruz said, "I believe initiating new military hostilities in a sustained basis in Iraq obligates the president to go back to Congress and to make the case and to seek congressional authorization. I hope that if he intends to continue this that he does that." Cruz has been largely supportive of the bombings and humanitarian aid, however. He stated, "I am glad that President Obama is finally beginning to take the threat of ISIS seriously."[95]

August 10, 2014: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) criticized the administration's handling of foreign policy, claiming there was a "vacuum of American leadership throughout the Middle East." He argued for increased air strikes, including in Syria and providing equipment and training to the Iraqi military, Kurds and Free Syrian Army.[96] He disagreed with the administration's strategy, suggesting, "Launching three strikes around a place where horrible humanitarian crisis is taking place, meanwhile [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)] continues to make gains everywhere, yes is clearly very, very ineffective, to say the least."[97]

August 12, 2014: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) came forward with his thoughts on the air strikes in Iraq, pointing out, "I have mixed feelings about it,” the senator said Monday evening of the recent strikes against ISIL targets. “I’m not saying I’m completely opposed to helping with arms or maybe even bombing, but I am concerned that ISIS is big and powerful because we protected them in Syria for a year. Do you know who also hates ISIS and who is bombing them? Assad, the Syrian government."[98]

August 13, 2014: Sen. Paul again spoke out in regard to U.S. foreign policy in Iraq suggesting the president needed to receive approval from Congress before sending troops back to Iraq, stating, "When he ran for office, he said no president should unilaterally go to war without the approval of Congress unless we're in imminent danger. So really I'd like President Obama to go back and meet candidate Obama and see if they can come to an agreement." He did, however, show support for the humanitarian efforts and air strikes of ISIS locations.[99]

August 17, 2014: Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) claimed al-Qaeda and ISIS were competing to become the "premier terrorist organization," stating, "Before 9/11, there were single-level threat streams coming to the United States. So, pretty serious. Obviously they got in and conducted the attacks on 9/11. Now you have multiple organizations, all Al Qaeda minded, trying to accomplish the same thing." He continued, suggesting, "You're not going to solve the [ISIS] problem in Iraq without dealing with the Syria problem," he said. "We should absolutely play a role there."[100]

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) urged more significant action in Iraq, arguing, "We need to defeat them. We need to be highly concerned about this. This threat is a gathering storm. It’s not going away." He called for the gathering of NATO forces in order to handle the threat of ISIS.[101]

August 18, 2014: Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) announced their support for the administration's order for air strikes to re-take the Mosul Dam, stating, "We applaud President Obama's decision to step up U.S. air strikes in support of Kurdish and Arab Iraqi forces who are fighting to retake the Mosul Dam."[102]

August 20, 2014: Rep. Rogers criticized President Obama's continuing his vacation following the Foley execution, citing British Prime Minister David Cameron's early return from his vacation, "The optics of being on vacation and not coming away from that vacation, I just think are bad. That is why I think [Cameron] is going back. He is going to show he is the prime minister and he is taking this matter seriously, and he is on the job making the decisions that you need to make to keep Britain safe."[74]

August 21, 2014: Sen. John McCain disagreed with the timing of the administration's announcement that a rescue mission had been attempted to save Foley and three other American hostages in the summer of 2014, claiming, "I don’t really like to impugn people’s motives all the time, but remember after we got Bin Laden all that stuff was leaked about it that was totally unnecessary and even compromised some of our capabilities. This is sort of the same thing. They see the negative, the disapproval of the American people of the handling of this situation, so one can’t help but assume that this is sort of to try and help their PR that they tried to rescue the hostages." A National Security Council spokesperson disputed McCain's claim, stating, "We only went public today when it was clear a number of media outlets were preparing to report on the operation and that we would have no choice but to acknowledge it."[103]

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) argued that the release of information regarding the United States' secret mission attempting to free captives in Syria was "unwise," explaining, "Successful or not, such operations are incredibly sensitive, even after they have concluded. Disclosure of these missions puts our troops at risk, reduces the likelihood that future missions will succeed, and risks the lives of hostages and informants alike."[104]

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) said ISIS was "rapidly developing a method of blowing up a major U.S. city and people just can’t believe that’s happening," before urging the president to come up with a plan of action before more American lives were taken.[105]

Appearing in Washington, D.C., Texas Governor Rick Perry expressed his concern that ISIS militants could be crossing the United States-Mexico border and infiltrating the United States, stating, "There's the obvious great concern that, because of the condition of the border from the standpoint of it not being secure, and us not knowing who is penetrating across, that individuals from ISIS or other terrorist states could be [crossing]. There's a very real possibility that they may have already used that [strategy]."[106]

August 24, 2014: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) acknowledged ISIS' strength when he spoke about the power the group had, stating, "It's about time now to assume the worst about these guys rather than underestimating them — they're not the JV team anymore. They're the most prominent terrorist organization in the world, but they're not the only one. They're in competition with the other jihadist groups, and the gold medal will be awarded to the group that can hit America." He added that ISIS needed to be defeated in their own area, before being able to get into the United States, claiming, "We have to begin with the presumption that they could be such a threat. … But to jump from what they’ve done, which is horrific, the murder of Mr. Foley, to the assumption that they’re going to be an immediate and, within days, threat to us here in our homeland, I think you don’t jump to that assumption, but you don’t dismiss it."[107]

Sen. John McCain used an earthquake on August 23, 2014, to criticize the administration's response to ISIS, claiming, "The president has to understand that America must lead and, when American hasn’t, a lot of bad things happen. This is not like the earthquake in San Francisco. All of this could have been avoided, like leaving a residual behind force in Iraq, and obviously the challenge is now much greater than it would have been." When asked if he felt Obama would launch a full attack on ISIS, McCain replied, "I do not know. But I don’t think his advisers would be that far out front if they didn’t have some confidence."[108]

Rep. Mac Thornberry expressed his worry of members of ISIS reaching the United States using western passports, stating, "The biggest fear is that there are 10,000 to 12,000 foreign fighters that have joined ISIS and various estimates but many of them have Western passports. They're either American or they're Western European passports. So they can come here to the United States homeland without a visa. And they can bring ... what they've learned about bomb-making and about assassinations with them here at home."[109]

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) argued that the president's orders of airstrikes were insufficient, claiming that a "containment strategy is not going to cut it." She stated, "We need an Iraqi government that’s inclusive,” she said. “We also need Muslim leaders to condemn ISIS, to say ISIS has to go."[110]

Rep. Mike Rogers responded to the beheading of photojournalist James Foley, arguing that the United States was not safe due to the amount of time ISIS had been operating without major international interference. He argued, "One of the problems is it’s going unabated for nearly two years, and that draws people from Britain, across Europe, even the United States to go and join the fight. They see that as a winning ideology, a winning strategy and they want to be apart of it, and that’s what makes it so dangerous. They are one plane ticket away from U.S. shores and that’s why we’re so concerned about it." He explained the risk of the visa waiver program, run by the U.S. Department of State, stating, "We know the [Obama administration’s] number 2,000 ... with western passports is low,” he said. “Intelligence has a very different number and it’s much higher than that."[111]

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) questioned what the administration's plan was to defeat ISIS, stating, "What I want to hear from our commander-in-chief is that he has a strategy to finish ISIS off. To defeat ISIS. If we don't deal with this threat now thoroughly and convincingly, it's going to come home to roost. I don't want to be an armchair general and tell you how this needs to be done, but I would reference the fact that Gen. Dempsey did say, to do this correctly, that Syria is going to have to be a part of this equation."[112]

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) joined the growing number of representatives arguing that the administration's plan of airstrikes would eventually need to be approved by Congress, stating, "We believe that the administration should be in consultation with Congress, so far they have under the War Powers Act. This has been festering for the last year and now it is culminating with the killing, the beheading of an American journalist, which I think is a turning point."[113]

August 26, 2014: Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH) criticized the administration for a supposed lack of coordination in their fight against ISIS, arguing, "I think what the administration needs to do is come forward with a plan. They have no coordinated plan. We have no stated goals and objectives. The administration has inconsistent statements as to whether or not they see ISIS as a threat to the west or the United States."[114]

August 29, 2014:

This Scott Brown campaign video attacked President Obama's foreign policies.
New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown released a Youtube video attacking the administration's foreign policy, particularly in Iraq and Syria. Brown stated in the video, "There are so many issues on the table right now that are affecting our foreign policy, but we have one of the most inconsistent foreign policies right now. And our allies don't trust us. Our foes don't fear or respect us. We're in trouble." In a statement Brown released, he followed up on his comments in the video, "One of the greatest threats facing the homeland today is the mayhem that will happen when hundreds of American ISIS fighters return to the United States to spread their terror here. Their goal is to march down Pennsylvania Avenue and plant a flag at the White House, and mass killing is their means for achieving that goal."[115]

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) stated that ISIS needed to be wiped out, not merely contained, by any actions take by the president, stating, "What we need to have is a strategy to finish them off, to defeat ISIS. Not contain them, not to react, but to fundamentally finish them off. If the president doesn’t step up on this issue, we’re gonna rue the day." He explained, "This isn’t Iraq War 2.0. This is far different that than, and we have to get on this fast while it’s containable. If we don’t rise to this moment, that sends the worst possible signal to tomorrow’s jihadists."[116]

August 31, 2014: Rep. Mike Rogers urged the president to act on the threat of ISIS members getting into the U.S. to commit an act of terror, stating, "We have to be careful how we do it, not to restrict U.S. citizen travel. I do think that there is a way, through greater means of collecting evidence, to slow down these individuals." He argued further, "We have a law on the books, we should use it. And we should be aggressive when using it. I think if you can have a few of those prosecutions up front, people get less interested in traveling overseas."[117] Further expanding on his opinions on the administration's foreign policy during an interview, Rogers claimed, "We find it consistent with his past policy and actions on foreign policy. It shows, and I think exemplifies, that his foreign policy is in free fall." He elaborated, "Three years ago, we had really good options in Syria and how to stop their pooling in the east and going into Iraq. Two years ago, we had better options, not great options. Today, our options are far more limited, far more dangerous, and will call for far more engagement."[118]

September 3, 2014: Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) demanded that the president come forward with a plan to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, stating, "The president should come up with a strategy, present it to Congress, address the American people and tell us how he believes we should stop them. This is not in my view a manageable situation. They want to kill us." He explained further, "This is a serious threat to the United States, to our national security. And the president is the guy who needs to lay before Congress and the American people a strategy to deal with it."[119]

Republican challenger to Sen. Mark Warner, Ed Gillespie, explained his support for Rep. Wolf's proposed legislation allowing the administration the power to go after ISIS, stating, "When President Obama said we don't have a strategy, Mark Warner called it 'a very unfortunate choice of words.' It's not a poor choice of words but an accurate statement of confusion when the American people deserve clarity. I hope the President comes forward with a strategy to defeat what top officials in his own administration call a national security threat to our country. I support Frank Wolf's efforts to seek congressional authorization when it comes to use of military force against ISIS."[120]

September 4, 2014: Sen Rand Paul called for the U.S.-Mexico border problems be a top priority in order to prevent terrorists from coming into the United States in a Time op-ed. He wrote, "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."[121][122]

Rep. Mike Rogers called for action against ISIS, suggesting Congress give the administration the authority to follow ISIS wherever the trail leads, regardless of country. He stated, "We ought to give the president authority to go after ISIS where they find them. They don’t sense borders. We ought not to sense those borders. We shouldn’t handcuff ourselves in an effort to degrade and disable their ability to conduct operations." Rogers specifically touched on Syria, mentioning, "That’s where their headquarters is. This is where their logistics are. This is where a lot of their oil revenue comes from. This is where their military equipment, a lot of it came from until they got up into Mosul and cleaned out those arsenals."[123]

September 7, 2014: Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger urged the president to act with force, stating, "When an American is murdered on television for the purpose of terrorizing Americans, there should be a response that you cannot – you would not analyze in terms of a normal response to provocation." He further commented, "Something has to crystallize out of this violence and it won’t happen without our leadership. We cannot do it all by ourselves, but we can make clear that certain tactics will be strongly resisted."[124]

Former Governor of Utah and presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R) was highly critical of President Obama while on Fox News Sunday, claiming, "He is so out of touch with reality that he hasn't taken the kind of action necessary to prevent very bad things from happening." He went further, calling out the president's golfing while on vacation, suggesting, "I don't know if you can't see reality from the fairway."[125]

September 10, 2014: Sen. Rand Paul commented on the president's claim that ISIS was not Islamic, stating, "Ultimately, civilized Islam will have to step up. We need to do everything we can to protect ourselves, I’m all in for saying we have to combat ISIS. So I think it is important not only for the American public but for the world and for the Islamic world to point out that this is not a true form of Islam, this is an abhorrent form." He continued, suggesting a better route for Obama to have gone would have been calling a joint session of Congress and asking for a vote. He stated, "It is unconstitutional what he’s doing."[126]

New Hampshire candidate for United States Senate Scott Brown (R) once again took on Obama's policy decisions regarding both ISIS and the U.S.-Mexico border, claiming, "We need to secure the border, once and for all. We need to make sure that we have an immigration policy that works. But not one that rewards that illegality with incentives. And the president needs to really rethink very, very, seriously what he's about to do. And does it mean boots on the ground? Everything should be on the table. Of course, we don't want another world war. But to immediately take things off the table is wrong."

September 11, 2014: Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), when asked his thoughts on the president's plan in dealing with ISIS, said, "We only have one commander in chief. He laid out his plan. I would never tell the enemy what I was willing to do, or unwilling to do. But he is the commander in chief, he made that decision. At this point in time, it’s important that we give the president what he’s asking for. And we gotta keep our eye on the ball. The issue here is about defeating a terrorist threat that is real and imminent." He did, however, continue insisting that even though the president said no boots would be on the ground, some troops would need to be sent in.[127]

Former vice presidential candidate and governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, pushed for President Obama to "go big or go home," in a social media post, claiming, "War is hell. So go big or go home, Mr. President. Big means bold, confident, wise assurance from a trustworthy Commander-in-Chief that it shall be worth it. Charge in, strike hard, get out. Win." She followed the statement by questioning Obama's trustworthiness, stating, "He is so inconsistent in leading a failed agenda that it’s virtually impossible to put any hope in his new promises, because either his past statements shrugging off ISIS as just a ‘JV squad’ was all talk, or tonight’s new terminology is just all talk."[128]

September 14, 2014: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said the idea of the United States not putting soldiers in Iraq and Syria to battle ISIS was a "fantasy." He continued, claiming, "I will not let this president suggest to the American people we can outsource our security and this is not about our safety."[129]

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) acknowledged that troops needed to be on the ground in Syria and Iraq in order to defeat ISIS, but he encouraged the President to allow foreign countries to pledge soldiers. He stated, "I don’t know why we wouldn’t consider that option of all the Arab nations." He also acknowledged that more U.S. support personnel would need to be in the area, claiming, "I don’t think we want to put conventional forces in the middle of all of this. We will need advisers and special forces to guide airstrikes into Syria which we have not done to date."[130]

September 15, 2014: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) argued that it would not be good policy to arm moderate Syrian rebel groups, explaining, "It’s a mistake to arm them. Most of the arms we’ve given to the so-called moderate rebels have wound up in the hands of ISIS because ISIS simply takes it from them, or it’s given to them, or we mistakenly actually give it to some of the radicals." He also pointed to rumors of the rebels signing cease-fire agreements with ISIS, arguing, "I would say one insightful piece of news from the last week is, some of the moderate rebels, so-called moderate rebels have now signed a ceasefire with ISIS. So really their enemy is really Assad, they don’t really care what ISIS does."[131]

Democratic reactions

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA)
June 12, 2014: Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) encouraged the administration to begin talks with Congress, saying, "The way we ought to do this here in Washington is that the president should put a plan on the table and make a suggestion to Congress about what we should do. I would strongly recommend that the administration come to Congress very, very soon and put some options on the table about what we should be able to do."[61]

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), chair of the Armed Services Committee, claimed the committee would not rule out any actions, but said they would not rush the process. He stated, "We shouldn’t knee jerk anything. The Iraqi government a few years back when they had a chance to sign an agreement that would keep some of our presence there, refused to do it. So we’ve got to be very careful and thoughtful before we do anything."[61]

June 18, 2014: Sen. John Walsh (D-MT), the only Iraq war veteran in Senate, suggested the U.S. step back and let the Iraqis "secure and defend their own nation, to embrace their own self-determination is the only path to a true and everlasting peace in Iraq."[132]

June 25, 2014: Sen. Kaine warned the president, prior the July 4th recess, against acting unilaterally in Iraq. He stated, "I do not believe that this President or any President has the ability, without Congressional approval, to initiate military action in Iraq or anywhere else, except in the case of an emergency posing an imminent threat to the U.S. or its citizens. And I also assert that the current crisis in Iraq, while serious and posing the possibility of a long-term threat to the United States, is not the kind of conflict where the President can or should act unilaterally. If the United States is to contemplate military action in Iraq, the President must seek Congressional authorization."[133]

July 1, 2014: Sen. Walsh wrote a letter to the president asking for the limits on the administration's involvement in Iraq. His letter read, "A continued escalation of U.S. commitment in Iraq is troubling. The president has promised to prevent ‘mission creep.' But how many Americans will we deploy? How much money will we spend?"[134]

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
July 2, 2014: In a Politico editorial, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) argued "ISIL has been successful in Iraq largely because of Sunni animosity toward the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. His government has not governed inclusively and has fueled sectarian distrust. Simply put, Maliki needs to go."[135]

July 8, 2014: Former Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) claimed the United States broke a promise by not getting involved in the conflict and should take responsibility. Lieberman argued, "This is, today, a question of America’s word. At any moment, a push from Iran could turn [Iraqi] guns on these people and that would be a terrible stain on America’s honor and reputation. We’ve got to get them out of there as quickly as possible."[136]

August 10, 2014: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) staked his claim, "The bottom line is this: There is so much we can do to help the Iraqis help themselves." He also shared his stance on the possibility of a military intervention in the conflict, stating, "I can tell you this: Escalating it is not in the cards."[137]

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized President Obama's lack of support to Syrian rebels during the civil war, suggesting it led to ISIS taking a hold in the country. She stated, "The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad—there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle—the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled."[138]

August 12, 2014: Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) spoke out in support of the president's actions through airstrikes, but warned the administration about "mission creep" without approval from Congress. Hoyer claimed, "All of us agree that boots on the ground are not in the offing, at this point in time, nor should they be … without further consultation and action by the Congress. But I think the president is acting properly, and I have urged the administration to act decisively in terms of protection of the Kurdish area of Iraq and giving the humanitarian aid to the people who were surrounded on that mountain." Likewise, Lee stated, "If they change their policy and decide differently, other than limited targeted strikes … they should come to Congress, we should have a debate, and we should [have] the vote."[139]

Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) had a different approach, urging additional spending to help train, supply and guide the Iraqi forces to victory, suggesting, "We have to allow them, by equipment, some training, some tactical advice, the capability to go after ISIS or ISIL and not only just keep them in a box but gradually reclaim the country of Iraq for the Iraqi people."[140]

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) explained the president's thoughts on involvement in Syria before explaining his disagreement with the administration's plan, stating, "The president still feels very strongly that we are deluding ourselves if we think American intervention in Syria early on by assisting these rebels would have made a difference. He still believes that. I disagree, respectfully. They were not looking for U.S. troops, they were looking for help and the Syria Civil War started with the most noblest of causes."[68]

August 13, 2014: Sen. Bernie Sanders called for action from the international community in fighting off ISIS advances in Iraq, suggesting, "The United States is not the only country on earth with an air force." He continued to argue that "the U.S. should not have to act alone militarily in this crisis."[141]

August 17, 2014: Sen. Eliot Engel (D-NY) admitted that the threat of ISIS may require ground forces, suggesting, "Ultimately, we may have some boots on the ground there," but he claimed it would not be the same as the prior invasion of Iraq. He defended his thoughts, stating, "What’s going on in Iraq is horrific, and it warrants a response,” Engel said. “We cannot just put our heads in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist."[101]

August 21, 2014: Former congressional aide Brent Budowski wrote an op-ed for The Hill, suggesting that ISIS has stockpiled between $400 million and $2 billion, and they may be seeking a way to use the money to attack the United States. He argued, "The odds that ISIS can obtain nuclear, chemical, biological or other forms of mass destruction weapons are impossible to ascertain but in a world of vast illegal arms trafficking, with so many corrupt officials in nations possessing arsenals of destruction, the danger is real." He also posed a solution, "What is needed is a multinational special ops strike force made up of 10,000 troops from NATO nations and possibly Arab League nations. If I am wrong about this danger, America and Europe will be overprotected. If I am right, and we do not act, many Americans or Europeans will be dead."[142]

House Intelligence Committee member Adam Schiff (D-CA) warned that the United States should not overreact to the beheading of American journalist James Foley. He explained, "We shouldn’t allow this horrible act to provoke us into doing things that are counterproductive. There’s nothing ISIS would like more than having us reintroduce ground troops into Iraq, for example." He did, however, support more air strikes and a proposal by the State Department for 300 more troops in Baghdad for security purposes.[143]

August 24, 2014: Democratic Senate candidates Mark Pryor (D-AR), Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Alison Lundergan Grimes (D-TN) all showed support for President Obama's limited air strike campaign against ISIS. Landrieu stated, "I think that the president is taking the right course to use air power to hold off these militant groups and to try to re-establish order." Pryor agreed with air strikes in the short-term, but stated, "I don't think most Arkansans believe that we should be the world's policeman. We need to work with our allies. We need to try to help and provide a stable situation, and certainly look out for the humanitarian concerns, but at the end of the day, a lot of these countries, they just have to take responsibility for their own countries."[144]

August 25, 2014: Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) reiterated his desire for Congress to vote on the military action in the Middle East, explaining, "I will always support the president when he takes action to protect American service members and diplomats. But I am calling for the mission and objectives for this current significant military action against ISIL to be made clear to Congress, the American people, and our men and women in uniform. And Congress should vote up or down on it."[145]

August 31, 2014: Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) criticized the perceived lack of a plan behind the air strikes on ISIS, suggesting, "We want to do whatever we need to do to stop. You don’t just come in and bomb." He further pushed the administration for stronger action, saying "if we’re going to go in, we’re not going to go in to drop some bombs."[146]

Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson spoke out in defense of Obama taking time to craft a strategy, stating, "We need better intelligence about their objectives, about their capabilities." He also claimed that the United States should not go against ISIS alone, requesting a "coalition" be formed.[147]

September 1, 2014: Rep. John Larson (D-CT) spoke out about the lack of congressional action due to the August 2014 recess, stating, "Congress has been off for more than six weeks. Some have said, and I can’t disagree with them, that we’re AWOL." He continued, expressing his feelings that Congress ought to be in session during such an important time, "Congress has been off for more than six weeks,” the Connecticut Democrat said on MSNBC. “Some have said, and I can’t disagree with them, that we’re AWOL."[148]

September 2, 2014: Rep. Engels came out against the lack of a more serious plan to stop ISIS following journalist Steven Sotloff's beheading, stating, "This is exactly the reason why we have to go after ISIS, why we cannot just let them wreak havoc. They’re killers, they’re brutal."[149]

Upon announcing a proposal allowing the administration to use air strikes in Syria, Sen. Bill Nelson commented, "This will ensure there’s no question that the president has the legal authority he needs to use airstrikes in Syria. We must go after ISIS right away because the U.S. is the only one that can put together a coalition to stop this group that’s intent on barbaric cruelty."[53]

September 3, 2014: Sen. Elizabeth Warren claimed ISIS needed to be the administration's top priority, explaining, "ISIS is growing in strength. It has money, it has organization, it has the capacity to inflict real damage. So when we think about a response we have to think about how to destroy that." She followed stating, "We need to be working now, full-speed ahead, with other countries, to destroy ISIS. That should be our No. 1 priority." When asked about the Americans who had joined ISIS, Warren said, "we're going to have to change in fundamental ways how we monitor our citizens when they go abroad."[150]

September 4, 2014: Sen. Nelson claimed he would not remove sending soldiers into Iraq or Syria from his list of options, explaining, "When you do a major military operation, you leave opportunities for all kinds of contingencies. It is clearly the intention of the United States that we are not going to put a land army in Syria, but to achieve an objective, you have to give yourself the flexibility to achieve that goal that you’re trying." He added, "What we find in Syria, we’ll have to deal with at the time. If the objective is to cut off the head of the snake, the ISIS snake in Syria, then that’s what we’re going to have to do."[151]

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) suggested the beheadings of American journalists were done in order to provoke an over-reactive military action from the United States. He said, "It's important for us to not go beyond what is warranted by the facts. It's very important for us to do what is necessary, but not more than is necessary, because they're hoping to be able to go to somebody and say, 'See, you've been aggrieved. Your family was a collateral damage. Your family was mistreated in some way. So then come join us.' That is one of the ways they try to recruit, and we should not help them in that endeavor."[152]

September 11, 2014: Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN) supported an alternative of the Obama administration's plan to battle ISIS, suggesting, "I encourage them to employ the same intelligence resources – and the same selective, highly effective means they used to bring down Osama Bin Laden. Special operations of this kind do not involve U.S. troops on the ground, the killing of innocent people, or the re-involvement of the United States in another terribly destructive, expensive, open-ended conflict in that region."[153]

Sen. Nelson spoke in support of the administration's plans, claiming, "The threat posed by Iraq grows with each passing day. And since Sept. 11, 2001, we cannot wait to protect ourselves against the threats of weapons of mass destruction, regimes hostile to the United States, and their links to terrorism." Nelson also voted in favor of invading Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S. On whether or not he believed a timetable was necessary for the military operation, Nelson stated, "I don’t think there’s any timetable on what the president can do to protect Americans. All you need to do is see the videos of the beheading, and then you’re not worried about mission creep."[154]

International reactions

June 22, 2014: Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated his desire for the U.S. to stay out of Iraq, saying, "We strongly oppose the intervention of the U.S. and others in the domestic affairs of Iraq. The main dispute in Iraq is between those who want Iraq to join the U.S. camp and those who seek an independent Iraq. The U.S. aims to bring its own blind followers to power."[155]

June 27, 2014: In an interview with CNN, Iraq's ambassador to the U.S., Lukman Faily, urged the United States to help the government stop ISIS, pleading, "At an extremely difficult time, we need immediate help to face an immediate threat. We don’t have the luxury of waiting."[156]

July 6, 2014: Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said of the U.S.' lack of involvement in Iraq, "I think the U.S. is absolutely right to leverage its support to say to Prime Minister Maliki that he has to change or the government has to change."[157]

August 8, 2014: British Defense Minister Michael Fallon stated that England would not give their support through military action, but would help contribute to the humanitarian efforts, stating, "We welcome what America is doing in particular to bring humanitarian relief and to prevent any further suffering. But our focus is on assisting that humanitarian mission, using our military in support of the Americans in terms of refueling and surveillance, and add to it with food drops with our own."[158]

August 13, 2014: Maliki issued an address rejecting the Iraqi president's move in ousting him as prime minister as an unconstitutional act and insisted a federal court hear the case before he would leave office. Maliki stated, "Why do we insist that this government continue and stay as is until a decision by the federal court is issued? It is a constitutional violation — a conspiracy planned from the inside or from out.[159]

August 24, 2014: British Ambassador to the U.S. Peter Westmacott said British intelligence was working on identifying the man who beheaded U.S. photojournalist James Foley, stating, "I do know from my colleagues that we are close, but forgive me if I can't go much further than that at this point." He continued, explaining, "We have got people from lots and lots of Western democracies who, unfortunately, are misguided enough to go to that part of the region and take up a cause which is a betrayal of all our values."[160]

August 25, 2014: A spokesperson for the Free Syrian Army suggested that air strikes would not be effective enough to stop ISIS, stating, "Airstrikes against ISIS inside Syria will not be helpful. Airstrikes will not get rid of ISIS. Airstrikes are like just tickling ISIS." He further argued, "So airstrikes will not be enough to get rid of these terrorists and at the same time, they might hit civilians. That’s the problem." The commander of the rebel group also commented on Foley's beheading, suggesting the United States took too long to react to ISIS. He stated, "The ISIS killing of James Foley and the threatening of the other American journalists reflects that America didn’t pay much attention to the threat and growth of ISIS inside Syria. We were very clear that we wanted to cooperate with the Americans. They didn’t listen. They paid a price."[161]

August 29, 2014: Upon raising the threat level in Britain to "severe," Prime Minister David Cameron commented, "The root cause of this threat to our security is quite clear: it is a poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism that is condemned by all faiths and by all faith leaders." He said the change in threat level was due, in part, to the Foley beheading and the roughly 500 British citizens who went to Iraq and Syria, potentially to join ISIS.[162]

September 13, 2014: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott committed helping defeat ISIS by providing aircraft and military advisers, stating, "The ISIL death cult threatens the people of Iraq, the region and the wider world."[34]

September 14, 2014: Prime Minister Cameron presented a statement following ISIS' murder of British citizen David Haines, stating, "They are not Muslims, they are monsters. We are a peaceful people. We do not seek out confrontation, but we need to understand we cannot ignore this threat to our security and that to our allies." He continued, backing the United States' plan to destroy ISIS, "There is no option of keeping our heads down that would make us safe. … We have to confront this menace."[163]

September 15, 2014: Iranian Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke out against the coalition after the Obama administration announced Iran would not be considered for the coalition, stating, "American officials' comments on forming an anti-Islamic State (alliance) are blank, hollow and self-serving, and contradictions in their behaviours and statements attest to this fact."[33]

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius stood behind a document signed by over 30 countries that promises to use "whatever means necessary" to eliminate ISIS. He stated, "It's a movement so dangerous that all those here today consider it necessary not just to make it retreat, but to make it disappear," Fabius said. "When you have a group of this kind there is no other approach than to defend oneself. That is what the international community has decided to do."[164]

Actions proposed

June 14, 2014: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered an aircraft carrier be moved to the Persian Gulf for added flexibility if President Obama chose to act.[165]

June 16, 2014: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) suggested the administration talk with the Iranian government due to their Shiite connections. Graham stated, "The Iranians can provide some assets to make sure that Baghdad doesn’t fall. We need to co-ordinate with the Iranians and the Turks need to get into the game."[92]

June 16, 2014: State Department officials announced that the U.S. embassy in Baghdad received additional security and some of the 5,000 personnel were either moved to more secure areas of the country or pulled out of the country. It is the United States' largest embassy worldwide.[62] President Obama clarified in an address to Congress that 275 armed military personnel would be stationed in Baghdad for the purpose of protecting the embassy and U.S. citizens, if necessary.[166]

June 19, 2014: President Obama announced that 300 U.S. military advisers would be sent to Iraq in addition to plans aimed at improving intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. He stated, "We will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action, if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it," but again insisted that no American troops would be sent over to help the Iraqi government in the conflict.[167]

June 24, 2014: President Obama hosted all 100 senators for a briefing on Iraq in the White House.[168]

June 28, 2014: Military officials confirmed that armed unmanned drones were deployed over Baghdad for the purpose of protecting the advisers and embassy. No authorization was given for the drones to begin airstrikes on ISIS militants.[169]

June 30, 2014: President Obama ordered another 300 U.S. soldiers sent to Baghdad in order to provide additional security to the embassy and U.S. citizens.[170]

July 25, 2014: The U.S. House voted 370-40 passing a resolution that would block the president from sending ground troops into Iraq without the approval of Congress. The measure was not expected to pass through the Senate, however.[171]

August 7, 2014: The U.S. Air Force carried out a humanitarian mission in Iraq, dropping 5,300 gallons of water and 8,000 ready-to-eat meals on Mt. Sinjar. At least 40,000 members of the Yazidi religion were trapped on Mt. Sinjar by ISIS terrorists, forced to face starvation and dehydration on the mountain or death if they came down. Senior administration officials said the air drops and humanitarian aid would continue "as we see need."[172][173]

August 7, 2014: President Barack Obama authorized airstrikes in Iraq if necessary. Obama said, "We intend to stay vigilant, and take action if these terrorist forces threaten our personnel or facilities anywhere in Iraq." The president did say that there would be no troops deployed on the ground, "I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq. And so even as we support Iraqis, as they take the flight to these terrorists, American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq."[173]

August 8, 2014: A day after the authorization was granted, the first airstrike was carried out in Iraq. The strike targeted a mobile artillery unit near Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish province which contains a U.S. consulate. Obama said that the artillery was being "used against Kurdish forces defending Erbil, near US personnel." [173]

August 9-10, 2014: Several more airstrikes against ISIS armored vehicles and mortar positions were carried out over the weekend. The U.S. also continued dropping food and water to the civilians trapped on Mt. Sinjar. In total, over 74,000 meals and 15,000 gallons of fresh water have been dropped over Mt. Sinjar.[174][175]

August 11, 2014: U.S. officials announced, under anonymity, the United States was providing arms to the Kurdish forces in Iraq in an effort to defend themselves from ISIS advancements. Historically secretive arms deals have been conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency, but no indication was given as to which agency was charged with providing weapons.[176]

August 12, 2014: President Obama ordered 130 more military advisers to Iraq to manage the humanitarian efforts of the U.S. government. A Department of Defense spokesperson clarified that they were being sent to help the Yazidi people surrounded by ISIS troops and stated, "These forces will not be engaged in a combat role."[177]

August 17, 2014: President Obama ordered more air strikes, this time in an effort to allow Iraqi troops to recover the Mosul Damn from ISIS forces.[19]

August 20, 2014: The administration revealed that a mission to rescue captured Americans from Syria had been attempted prior to Foley's beheading, but failed. A spokesperson announced, "The President authorized action at this time because it was the national security team’s assessment that these hostages were in danger with each passing day in ISIL custody. The U.S. Government had what we believed was sufficient intelligence, and when the opportunity presented itself, the President authorized the Department of Defense to move aggressively to recover our citizens. Unfortunately, that mission was ultimately not successful because the hostages were not present."[178]

August 21, 2014: Defense Secretary Hagel announced that all options were on the table as the administration examined the situation with ISIS. He did claim that U.S. airstrikes along with Iraqi and Kurdish forces had temporarily stopped but acknowledged that ISIS forces would regroup and stage another offensive.[179]

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder launched a criminal investigation into the execution of James Foley by ISIS members.[75]

August 26, 2014: The U.S. military began expanding its mission when President Obama approved unmanned surveillance drone flights over Syria in preparation of possible air strikes of ISIS in the country.[40]

August 30, 2014: The U.S. and a coalition of European countries provided humanitarian aid drops into the city of Amirli, about 100 miles north of Baghdad, which had been under siege by ISIS forces for nearly two months. The help was requested by the Iraqi government.[180] The president notified Congress of the actions in a formal letter on September 1, 2014, as was required by law.[181]

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See also


  1. Politico, "What is happening in Iraq and why?," June 12, 2014
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 CNN, "ISIS: The first terror group to build an Islamic state?," June 12, 2014
  3. Russia Today, "All you need to know about ISIS and what is happening in Iraq," June 20, 2014
  4. The Guardian, "Iraqi civilian death toll passes 5,500 in wake of Isis offensive," July 18, 2014
  5. The Guardian, "Isis insurgents seize control of Iraqi city of Mosul," June 10, 2014
  6. The Economist, "Nearly all gone," July 26, 2014
  7. The Washington Post, "After leveling Iraq’s Tomb of Jonah, the Islamic State could destroy ‘anything in the Bible’," July 25, 2014
  8. Newsweek, "ISIS Destroys Mosques and Shrines in Iraq: Pictures," July 8, 2014
  9. 9.0 9.1 CNS News, "Leader: ISIS is ‘Systematically Beheading Children' in 'Christian Genocide'," August 7, 2014
  10. The Guardian, "Iraq: Isis warns women to wear full veil or face punishment," July 25, 2014
  11. The Telegraph, "Tanks on Baghdad's streets, but Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki finally ousted," August 11, 2014
  12. The Hill, "Al-Maliki unwavering in remaining as Iraqi PM," August 13, 2014
  13. The Guardian, "Iraqi government names new cabinet as Islamic State advance," September 8, 2014
  14. The Guardian, "John Kerry praises new Iraqi cabinet," September 9, 2014
  15. ABC News, "US Carries Out More Airstrikes Against ISIS in Iraq," August 8, 2014
  16. CNN, "Officials: U.S. airstrikes pound ISIS militants firing at Iraq's Yazidis," August 10, 2014
  17. CNN, "ISIS commander: Yazidi women, children abducted, taken to Mosul," August 13, 2014
  18. Time, "U.S. Says That Insurgents’ Siege of Iraqi Mountain Has Ended," August 14, 2014
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Politico, "White House broadens Iraq air mission," August 17, 2014
  20. The Hill, "Kurdish, Iraqi forces retake Mosul Dam," August 18, 2014
  21. The Guardian, "Islamic State militants claim to have killed US journalist James Foley," August 20, 2014
  22. 22.0 22.1 New York Times, "Before Killing James Foley, ISIS Demanded Ransom From U.S.," August 20, 2014
  23. CBS DC, "New ISIS Video Purports To Show Beheading Of Another US Journalist," September 2, 2014
  24. CNN, "Rebels sold Steven Sotloff's location to ISIS for thousands, family rep says," September 10, 2014
  25. The Hill, "White House: Hostage wasn't 'sold' to ISIS," September 9, 2014
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 CNN, "Obama escalates ISIS campaign in Iraq, broadens it to war-ravaged Syria," September 10, 2014
  27. NBC News, "Iraqi Christians Say Obama's Plan for ISIS Will Not Be Enough," September 11, 2014
  28. NBC News, "Tricky Diplomacy Awaits U.S. in ISIS Fight, Analysts Say," September 10, 2014
  29. New York Times, "Obama Sees Iraq Resolution as a Legal Basis for Airstrikes, Official Says," September 12, 2014
  30. The Hill, "Liberals press Pelosi, Obama for vote on Syrian air strikes," September 14, 2014
  31. Politico, "Saudis offer to host Syrian opposition training," September 10, 2014
  32. New York Times, "Retired Gen. John R. Allen in Line to Lead Effort vs. ISIS," September 11, 2014
  33. 33.0 33.1 New York Times, "U.S. Rules Out Military Coordination With Iran," September 15, 2014
  34. 34.0 34.1 New York Times, "Kerry Scours Mideast for Aid in ISIS Fight," September 13, 2014
  35. The Guardian, "Who are America's regional allies in the fight against Isis?," September 15, 2014
  36. 36.0 36.1 New York Times, "Struggling to Starve ISIS of Oil Revenue, U.S. Seeks Assistance From Turkey," September 13, 2014
  37. Associated Press, "CIA: ISLAMIC STATE GROUP HAS UP TO 31,500 FIGHTERS," September 11, 2014
  38. Politico, "DOD: Iraq effort cost more than $560 million," August 29, 2014
  39. The Guardian, "Kurds on Iraq's new faultline feel destiny beckoning," July 11, 2014
  40. 40.0 40.1 40.2 40.3 The Guardian, "US launches reconnaissance flights over Syria," August 26, 2014
  41. The Hill, "Syrian rebels warn Obama against airstrikes," August 25, 2014
  42. The Hill, "ISIS captures key Syrian air base," August 25, 2014
  43. New York Times, "Paths to War, Then and Now, Haunt Obama," September 13, 2014
  44. Washington Free Beacon, "U.S. Confirms ISIL Planning Infiltration of U.S. Southern Border," September 10, 2014
  45. 45.0 45.1 The Hill, "Justice asks local leaders to help identify US ISIS recruits," September 15, 2014
  46. 46.0 46.1 The Hill, "Republicans to limit Obama's aid to moderate Syrian rebel forces," September 15, 2014
  47. 47.0 47.1 The Hill, "White House steps up pressure on Congress to arm Syria rebels," September 15, 2014
  48. The Hill, "85 Democrats buck Obama in ISIS vote," September 17, 2014
  49. The Hill, "House approves Obama request for Syria in broad bipartisan vote," September 17, 2014
  50. The Hill, "Nine Senate Dems vote 'no' on Syria," September 18, 2014
  51. The Hill, "Fears mount of ISIS infiltrating America," August 24, 2014
  52. The Hill, "Fears mount of ISIS infiltrating America," August 24, 2014
  53. 53.0 53.1 Politico, "Bill Nelson to offer ISIL legislation," September 2, 2014
  54. The Hill, "House GOP bill would authorize use of military force against ISIS," September 3, 2014
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  56. The Hill, "ISIS vote divides Senate," September 8, 2014
  57. The Hill, "Leadership hoping to avoid vote on ISIS," September 9, 2014
  58. The Hill, "Reid won’t ‘rush’ ISIS vote in Senate," September 9, 2014
  59. The Hill, "House Dem eyes strategy to force ISIS vote," September 9, 2014
  60. The Hill, "GOP bills would revoke passports for people involved with ISIS," September 9, 2014
  61. 61.0 61.1 61.2 61.3 61.4 Politico, "White House: Iraq options don’t include ground troops," June 12, 2014
  62. 62.0 62.1 Huffington Post, "John Kerry: U.S. Open To Cooperating With Iran Over Iraq Conflict," June 16, 2014
  63. Al Jazeera, "Can Iraq's fate befall Afghanistan?," June 21, 2014
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  65. The Hill, "WH not seeking additional Iraq funds," August 8, 2014
  66. Politico, "Barack Obama backs effort for new Iraqi government," August 12, 2014
  67. The Guardian, "John Kerry insists any US moves in Iraq will not involve combat troops," August 12, 2014
  68. 68.0 68.1 The Hill, "Report: Obama told lawmakers that Syria criticism was 'horse ****'," August 12, 2014
  69. The Hill, "Kerry: US assessing options to help trapped civilians in Iraq," August 13, 2014
  70. The Hill, "US ground forces an option in Yazidi rescue," August 13, 2014
  71. The Hill, "Pentagon: Evacuation mission in Iraq 'far less likely'," August 13, 2014
  72. Politico, "Genocide averted, Iraq crisis persists," August 14, 2014
  73. The Hill, "Kerry: ISIS 'must be destroyed'," August 20, 2014
  74. 74.0 74.1 The Hill, "Obama: Entire world 'appalled' at ISIS execution of US journalist," August 20, 2014
  75. 75.0 75.1 The Hill, "DOJ investigating ISIS killing of Foley," August 21, 2014
  76. The Hill, "Hagel: ISIS 'beyond anything we've seen'," August 21, 2014
  77. The Hill, "Top military adviser downplays immediate ISIS threat to US," August 25, 2014
  78. The Hill, "Ex-CIA chief: 'I wouldn't underestimate’ ISIS," August 25, 2014
  79. The Hill, "'We don't have a strategy yet'," August 28, 2014
  80. The Hill, "White House does damage control," August 28, 2014
  81. The Hill, "WH: No plans to raise terror threat level," August 29, 2014
  82. CBS DC, "New ISIS Video Purports To Show Beheading Of Another US Journalist," September 2, 2014
  83. Politico, "Barack Obama vows 'justice' for Steven Sotloff," September 3, 2014
  84. The Hill, "Biden: US will follow ISIS to 'gates of hell'," September 3, 2014
  85. The Hill, "Hagel: Aim is to ‘destroy’ ISIS, not just ‘contain’ it," September 3, 2014
  86. CNN, "Obama outlines ISIS strategy: Airstrikes in Syria, more U.S. forces," September 10, 2014
  87. The Hill, "Kerry: ISIS not a 'war'," September 11, 2014
  88. The Hill, "ISIS video purports to show beheading of British aid worker," September 13, 2014
  89. Politico, "McDonough: ISIL 'stands for nothing'," September 14, 2014
  90. The Hill, "Ex-CIA director predicts 5,000 US personnel on ground by December," September 14, 2014
  91. Politico, "GOP senators call for Iraq air strikes," June 13, 2014
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  95. Time, "Ted Cruz: Obama Must Seek Congressional Authorization For Iraq Strikes," August 9, 2014
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  98. Politico, "Paul not opposed to Iraq bombing," August 12, 2014
  99. The Hill, "Rand Paul: No boots on the ground in Iraq without Congress," August 13, 2014
  100. The Hill, "Rogers: ISIS, al Qaeda competing to be 'premier terrorist organization'," August 17, 2014
  101. 101.0 101.1 Politico, "Lawmakers warn of 'gathering storm' in Iraq," August 17, 2014
  102. The Hill, "Sens. McCain, Graham ‘applaud’ Obama for airstrikes to retake dam," August 18, 2014
  103. The Hill, "McCain: White House disclosed rescue attempt to 'help their PR'," August 21, 2014
  104. The Hill, "House Armed Services chairman: Investigate ‘damaging’ Foley leak," August 21, 2014
  105. The Hill, "Republican: ISIS developing means to ‘blow up’ a US city," August 21, 2014
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  110. The Hill, "Containing ISIS is no solution, Ayotte says," August 24, 2014
  111. The Hill, "Rogers: ISIS a 'plane ticket away from US'," August 24, 2014
  112. The Hill, "Ryan wants to hear Obama's strategy to 'finish off' ISIS militants," August 24, 2014
  113. The Hill, "McCaul: Strikes will eventually need approval," August 24, 2014
  114. The Hill, "Top GOP rep: Obama 'waffling' on ISIS threat," August 26, 2014
  115. The Hill, "Scott Brown video hits Obama over ISIS," August 29, 2014
  116. The Hill, "Ryan: Obama needs to ‘step up’ on ISIS," August 29, 2014
  117. The Hill, "Obama can do more to keep ISIS out, House Intel chairman says," August 31, 2014
  118. The Hill, "Rogers: Obama’s foreign policy ‘in free fall'," August 31, 2014
  119. The Hill, "McConnell: ISIS is not ‘manageable’," September 3, 2014
  120. The Hill, "Sen. Warner joins calls for ISIS strategy," September 3, 2014
  121. The Hill, "Paul: Secure border to prevent ISIS ‘infiltration’," September 4, 2014
  122. Time, "Rand Paul: 'I am not an isolationist'," September 4, 2014
  123. The Hill, "Rogers: Obama should have authority to target ISIS wherever it operates," September 4, 2014
  124. Politico, "Kissinger: U.S. response to beheadings must send a message," September 7, 2014
  125. Politico, "Romney: Obama 'out of touch' on ISIL, Russia," September 7, 2014
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  127. Politico, "John Boehner supports Obama ISIL plan," September 11, 2014
  128. Politico, "Sarah Palin to Barack Obama: 'Go big or go home'," September 11, 2014
  129. The Hill, "No US boots in Syria is a 'fantasy,' Graham says," September 14, 2014
  130. The Hill, "McCaul: US should accept foreign military assistance to fight ISIS," September 14, 2014
  131. The Hill, "Rand Paul: 'Mistake to arm' Syrian rebels," September 15, 2014
  132. The Washington Post, "Only Iraq war veteran in Senate urges ‘extreme caution’," June 18, 2014
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  138. The Atlantic, "Hillary Clinton: 'Failure' to Help Syrian Rebels Led to the Rise of ISIS," August 10, 2014
  139. The Hill, "Key Democrats offer Obama support on Iraq — and a warning," August 12, 2014
  140. The Hill, "Sen. Reed: Boost military aid to Iraqis to beat ISIS," August 12, 2014
  141. The Hill, "Sanders: US shouldn't have to fight ISIS alone," August 13, 2014
  142. The Hill, "Budowsky: ISIS poses nuclear 9/11 threat," August 21, 2014
  143. The Hill, "Top Intel Dem: US should not be ‘provoked’ in Iraq by Foley slaying," August 21, 2014
  144. The Hill, "Dem candidates back Obama on Iraq," August 24, 2014
  145. Politico, "Tim Kaine: Congress must vote on Iraq," August 25, 2014
  146. The Hill, "Senior House Dem: 'You don’t just come in and bomb' without a plan," August 31, 2014
  147. The Hill, "Richardson: Obama right to wait on ISIS strategy," August 31, 2014
  148. Politico, "Rep. Larson: 'We're AWOL'," September 1, 2014
  149. Politico, "Pols call for action after Sotloff report," September 2, 2014
  150. The Hill, "Warren: Destroying ISIS should be 'No. 1 priority'," September 3, 2014
  151. The Hill, "Democrat suggests boots on the ground always a possibility," September 4, 2014
  152. The Hill, "Dem says ISIS videos meant to goad US," September 4, 2014
  153. Slate, "The ISIS-Bedwetter Watch Continues," September 11, 2014
  154. Slate, "Iraq Syndrome," September 11, 2014
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  156. Politico, Iraqi ambassador: ‘Immediate help’ needed," June 27, 2014
  157. Politico, "Blair sees Iraq crisis as a 'long-term problem'," July 6, 2014
  158. The Hill, "US reaches out to allies to boost Iraq aid," August 8, 2014
  159. The Hill, "Al-Maliki unwavering in remaining as Iraqi PM," August 13, 2014
  160. The Hill, "UK 'close' to identifying ISIS suspect," August 24, 2014
  161. The Hill, "Syrian rebels warn Obama against airstrikes," August 25, 2014
  162. The Hill, "UK raises threat level to 'severe' over ISIS," August 29, 2014
  163. The Hill, "British PM: ISIS fighters are 'monsters'," September 14, 2014
  164. The Guardian, "World leaders vow to use 'whatever means necessary' to defeat Isis threat," September 15, 2014
  165. Politico, "Chuck Hagel orders U.S. aircraft carrier to Persian Gulf," June 14, 2014
  166. Politico, "Up to 275 U.S. military personnel headed to Iraq," June 16, 2014
  167. USA Today, "Obama plans to send up to 300 military advisers to Iraq," June 19, 2014
  168. Politico, "Senators invited to Iraq briefing," June 24, 2014
  169. The Guardian, "US flying armed drones in Iraq," June 28, 2014
  170. CBS News, "300 more U.S. troops headed to Iraq," June 30, 2014
  171. The Guardian, "House votes to block president from sending US troops to fight in Iraq," July 25, 2014
  172. The Guardian, "40,000 Iraqis stranded on mountain as Isis jihadists threaten death," August 6, 2014
  173. 173.0 173.1 173.2 Abc News, "Airstrikes in Iraq," August 8, 2014
  174. CNN, "Iraq crisis: Troops swell in Baghdad amid ISIS threat, humanitarian nightmare," August 11, 2014
  175. CNN, "Officials: U.S. airstrikes pound ISIS militants firing at Iraq's Yazidis," August 10, 2014
  176. Politico, "U.S. sending arms to Kurds in Iraq," August 11, 2014
  177. The Hill, "Obama orders more than 100 advisers to Iraq," August 12, 2014
  178. The Hill, "Obama's secret raid in Syria to free American hostages failed," August 20, 2014
  179. Associated Press, "PENTAGON: ISLAMIC STATE MILITANTS WILL REGROUP," August 21, 2014
  180. Politico, "U.S. military launches airstrikes, drops humanitarian aid to help beleaguered city in Iraq," August 30, 2014
  181. Politico, "Obama notifies Congress of Iraq airstrikes," September 1, 2014