The one video that prompted the anti-ISIS war

It is true that ISIS can be described merely as a gang of militants, but there are no easy wars no matter how small the enemy is

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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If late al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden hadn't attacked New York and Washington and if the entire world hadn't seen the footage of the second jet as it crashed into the World Trade Center, history would have changed. If the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) hadn't slaughtered journalist James Foley and recorded a video in which it executed him, the current war against the ISIS wouldn't have been launched and the anti-ISIS alliance of fifty countries wouldn't have been formed.

Does this mean that a video can provoke the international community into action or that a war can be unleashed after one act of terror? Of course not. But al-Qaeda could have continued to wreak havoc in the Middle East and ISIS could have continued to slaughter thousands of people without all these fighter jets and battleships leaping from their bases.

This is nothing strange as there have been many similar events throughout history. The U.S. for example was against the Axis powers but it did not take part in World War II until two years after it erupted. The U.S. only participated in this war after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and the world has changed ever since. If Japan hadn't attacked the American naval base, Hitler would've been able to take over Europe and he would've become a power equivalent to the U.S., like the Soviet Union was later.

It is true that ISIS can be described merely as a gang of militants, but there are no easy wars no matter how small the enemy is

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

This was the case with al-Qaeda. Although it operated in the Middle East and West Africa, attacking embassies and an American battleship, it was not a major military target for the West. The situation changed however after Bin Laden attacked New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001.


ISIS is a group cloned from al-Qaeda and its leadership. Its understanding of power and its limits is shallow and it thus dragged the U.S. into the war prompting the latter to attack it and shell it. Before all this, Barack Obama had decided not to intervene and turned a blind eye to what was happening, vowing to spend his second presidential term without fighting any new wars, just like he promised those who voted for him. But this was evidently no longer an option after the Foley’s execution video was released.

It is true that ISIS can be described merely as a gang of militants, but there are no easy wars no matter how small the enemy is. Even the wisest and the most knowledgeable of people cannot guarantee how such battles will ensue and how they will come to an end. This is a fact. Therefore the Americans are trying to mobilize as many countries as possible in order to double their chances of success and grant international legitimacy to this war against the ISIS. Another reason could be that the U.S. does not desire to be the only party shedding the enemy's blood.

Failure to estimate

The U.S. administration failed at estimating the threats posed by ISIS and the Syrian war. It also failed to read into the biggest threat resulting from the growth of terrorist cells in Syria and Iraq.

All what was needed was another Sept. 11, hijacking a plane or broadcasting a brutal video of the execution of an American citizen. At this point, the president, who is also the commander in chief of the armed forces, cannot evade responsibility and not intervene no matter how loud the objections against the war are.

I reckon President Obama hopes to eliminate ISIS and go back to bed. These are of course confused dreams as the region is infected with terrorist intellect and the war won't easily end like he thinks. It will actually prolong because it began far too late.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Sep. 28, 2014.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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