Ned Simons   |   September 16, 2014    9:42 AM ET

The White House has repeated its wish that Scotland reject independence, as polls suggest the future of the United Kingdom remains too close to call.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Monday that the break-up of the UK was a "decision for the people of Scotland to make", but indicated the United States wanted to see Britain remain unified.

"I will certainly respect their right to cast their own ballot without interference from people on the outside," he said. "But, you know, as the president himself said, we have an interest in seeing the United Kingdom remain strong, robust, united and an effective partner."

However with the vote just days away and the polls too close to call, Earnest said the White House did not want to be seen to be "improperly interfering" in the internal-affairs of the UK.

Earnest also acknowledged that the US government had been planning for the dissolution of its closet ally. “I suspect that there’s somebody at the administration who’s been thinking about that at some level,” he said. "I don’t know to what level it has risen. It hasn't risen to my level, or maybe it hasn't sunk to my level."

By contrast the British government has steadfastly insisted it has made no contingency plans for its own break-up. David Cameron, Nick Clegg and other coalition ministers have repeatedly claimed they are focused solely on winning a 'No' vote and have not directed civil servants to plan for a 'Yes' victory.

The White House's comment on Monday restatement of a view given by president Obama in June, when he said the US wanted to see the UK remain a "strong, robust, united, and an effective partner".

In August, 27 members of the US Congress, from both parties, signed a motion urging Scotland to reject independence. House resolution 713, was signed by representatives including Republican congressman Ed Royce, the chairman of the House foreign affairs committee.

Royce told The Huffington Post at the time: "Our ‘special relationship’ with the United Kingdom is unparalleled. It is crucial for both our nations to continue our close cooperation on key diplomatic, security, economic, and human rights concerns. A strong, unified United Kingdom has been a leader in the world and I look forward to continuing our valuable partnership."

ISIL - Winning the War

Jon-Christopher Bua   |   September 15, 2014    4:39 AM ET

This week once again, the world witnessed another barbaric act by ISIL- the execution of British aid worker David Haines.

It is important to keep in mind, ISIL is not just another rag tag group of terrorists.

They are a well organised, well financed and sophisticated media savvy operation with a clear set of objectives - taking territory, military and financial assets and creating a Caliphate to support their own extreme brand of Islam.

It is now well documented that their intent is to shock the conscience of the West by spreading their message of hate to the disenfranchised and alienated worldwide by using our 'very own' 24 news cycle and social media.

Each of these horrific murders - filmed beheadings - have been carefully produced and distributed by ISIL to guarantee maximum free media attention.

Unfortunately, the West is caught between providing information to our citizens in line with our commitment to freedom of the press and being duped into becoming an unwilling participant by spreading their evil and distorted message.

These videos are gruesomely compelling and manipulative since they place the viewer where they can easily identify with the victim and his family.

These up close and personal brutal executions are in stark contrast to the sanitised concept of airstrikes and bombing seen on TV monitors from Defense Department's Headquarters both here and abroad.

Not at all shocking to anyone, these highly produced videos are clearly being used as a PR recruiting tool by ISIL.

This is far from the first time an evil and twisted group has used the "media tools" of the their time to spread a message of hate and destruction.

A similar operational plan was put in place by the Fascist Powers during World War II, glorifying their cause as they sought world domination.

The only question here is have we learned the lessons of the past? If so where is our sophisticated, Hollywood and London produced counter-propaganda campaign to expose the ISIL diabolic plot?

Where are the studio heads in Great Britain and in the US supporting our anti-ISIL message.

Hitler and Goebbels 'wunderkind' Leni Riefenstahl and her "Triumph of the Will" was no match for the real defenders of our democratic way of life on the silver screen - Noel Coward, John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, George Stevens and Frank Capra.

Last week in a dramatic prime-time address to the nation president Obama used the skill of a lawyer selecting his words with great care. With each word the president sent a clear message to both his domestic and international audience.

The president said that ISIL is not Islam - he made it clear that this group was killing Muslims, Christians and other minorities and committing acts that were not in any way condoned by Islam.

His message was intended for moderate Muslims worldwide - that America and its Allies understand that ISIL does not represent the view of all Muslims.

It was also intended to invite those moderate Islamic countries to join the coalition against ISIL since the US and its Allies must tread very carefully here.

Some part of the war that ISIL is waging is in fact a war over Islam. Not only do they want to rid the world of those they consider "non-believers" they also want to eliminate all other forms of Islam.

This is in some sense a war between Sunni and Shia and it is critical that the US and it's Allies cannot be seen taking sides in this struggle.

The president also went to great pains to say that ISIL was not a state - this too had great significance since it does not recognise or acknowledge the territory they hold.

Perhaps more important, the president cannot declare war on his own - this is for Congress alone to do.

The president said he was engaging in a "counterterrorism offensive" intent on degrading and destroying ISIL. Although he did not mention it in his speech, the president is relying on an Authorisation for Use of Military Force passed by the George W Bush Administration as his legal authority to undertake military action.

In a poll taken after the speech, the American public seemed almost evenly split on whether this plan will work. Perhaps this is because after spending so many billions of dollars and so much precious human treasure in Iraq, Americans cannot see how it can be different this time.

The US and its Allies clearly have the capacity to wage a successful military mission - if they choose. What is also clear is that after so many years in Iraq this is simply not enough.

What is needed is much more - "nation building" - and this is something that no Western democracy seems inclined to do.

The US and its Allies defeated Saddam Hussein and then realised there simply was no real government to take his place.

In the first Gulf War, president George H W Bush and his Secretary of State James Baker assembled a true coalition of 38 nations who contributed 200,000 troops in addition to the 500,000 US forces to drive Iraq and Saddam Hussein's elite guard from Kuwait.

And on top of that, they convinced some of these nations to pick up the tab.

After the first Gulf War, the George H W Bush Administration was criticised for not marching into Baghdad and taking out Saddam Hussein.

Perhaps now we know why. Once the US and its Allies defeated Saddam Hussein during the G W Bush Administration and tipped the balance of power in this region, it seemed we opened a Pandora's Box setting off a chain of reactions - the outcome of which might be felt for generations to come.

Now the US and it's Allies are contemplating how best to fight ISIL and re- establish some sort of order and stability in this region.

It seems both president Obama and prime minister Cameron are faced with the same dilemma - war weary citizens looking for a quick fix to this complex problem.

Fighting ISIL in Iraq and fighting them in Syria does not pose this same challenge or present the same risks.

Fighting ISIL in Iraq is an easier proposition since there is now some form of government in place that is eager for any help the West can provide in their struggle against ISIL.

However, the success of any mission in Iraq will not only depend upon the ability to retake territory but also upon the ability of this new government to win the confidence of its people.

Fighting ISIL in Syria, is another story. Syria is in the middle of a civil war where it is not so clear who the "good guys" are and how best to ensure their success.

To add to the complexity and danger, Syria and Assad are backed by Russia - so there will be no invitation coming from the Assad government to the US and its coalition partners.

Despite its bloody and brutal civil war Syria is a sovereign nation which is still run by Assad and interfering with its territorial integrity may have many unintended consequences.

Russia is supportive of Assad and has interests of its own in Syria including its own naval base. If the West engages in Syria in a way that tips the balance against Assad, Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin might weigh in. This is clearly the last thing needed in this explosive region.

Fighting ISIL on the homefront is perhaps the most challenging mission of all.

We have already seen that both American Citizens and British Subjects have not only been the victims of ISIL, some have left their homes and joined the fight on the side of ISIL.

Both president Obama and prime minister Cameron are feeling the public pressure to respond to this home grown threat.

The prime minister has already begun a plan to rout out potential ISIL recruits. He has announced a comprehensive strategy to deal with the threat they pose to the UK - taking away passports of those who have left the UK to join ISIL, etc. Other European countries have taken similar actions.

President Obama has not yet announced a similar plan in the US although some Members of Congress are following the UK lead with a variety of proposals.

How we choose to carry out this fight against ISIL both abroad and at home, using not only our military might but also our moral convictions, will determine just how we continue to live in an open and multi-cultural society.

Why Obama's Strategy Against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria Is Likely to Fail

Dr Johan Franzén   |   September 12, 2014    4:25 PM ET

President Barack Obama recently announced a new American campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (al-Dawlah al-Islamiyyah fi al-'Iraq wa al-Sham; ISIS). This campaign, in Obama's words, is designed to "degrade and ultimately destroy" ISIS (or IS as they have chosen to call themselves since declaring a "Caliphate"). This is unlikely to happen. While an aerial campaign against IS targets in Iraq and, controversially, Syria, might "degrade" the organisation, it cannot "destroy" it this way.

Obama's strategy of aerial strikes follows a long-established Western pattern of dealing with "insurgents" in Iraq. Almost a hundred years ago, the British introduced the strategy of using the RAF to bomb intransigent tribes and rebels into submission. In one of the first missions of its kind (air warfare had only just been invented), the RAF was employed to bomb Kurdish tribal fighters in the north of Iraq and nationalist rebels in the Arab parts throughout the 1920s. Echoing present arguments about the efficacy of "precision bombing", Sir John Salmond, the Air Officer Commanding British Forces in Iraq at the time, noted that "air action" was "so much more humane than a column".

Then, as now, rebellions and insurgencies were seen as military problems that required military solutions. Through aerial bombardment the problem could be made to go away. And it did - for a while. In the 1920s, Britain saw the north of Iraq as an area that needed to be subdued militarily and brought under the control of a centralised Baghdad government. In 2014, the US sees the north of Iraq in very much the same way: a military problem that requires a military solution and the area needs to be brought back under the Baghdad government's control.

But while the British strategy in the 1920s temporarily subdued Kurdish aspirations in the north and nationalist aspirations elsewhere, in the long run the strategy was disastrous, resulting - directly or indirectly - in the emergence of a powerful Kurdish nationalist movement bent on secession, and the overthrow of the British-installed monarchy and loss of British influence with the 14 July 1958 Revolution. If Obama repeats the mistake of not combining a military strategy with a political one, he too risks the overthrow of the Baghdad regime.

The problem of ISIS needs more than a half-hearted military response. ISIS is an Iraqi political problem that requires a political solution. The origins of the group dates back to the overthrow of Saddam Husayn's regime during the American invasion - which in effect turned Iraq into a "failed state". The dismantling of Iraq's security apparatus, military and large swathes of its civil service in the name of "De-Ba'thification" laid the foundations for the proliferation of Islamist terror groups in the years to come. Disgruntled Sunnis who felt let down by the new American-sponsored, Shi'i-dominated state allowed for the establishment and rapid growth of al-Qai'dah in Iraq - ISIS' forerunner.

Much like ISIS today, al-Qa'idah in Iraq threatened the security of the Iraqi state - having a significant presence in much the same areas that ISIS controls today. It was only driven back through a concerted military and political strategy that significantly involved the bribing of the Sunni community to turn against the Islamists. The so-called Awakening Councils were created among Sunni tribal groups in al-Anbar province, and the scheme was later rolled out on a larger scale. Only by removing this crucial Sunni support was al-Qa'idah in Iraq checked at the time. Today, however, no appeasement of the Sunnis is currently on the table. In fact, it's the opposite.

Since the Americans withdrew from Iraq, Nuri al-Maliki's government became increasingly authoritarian, and many Sunni groups felt that they were marginalised. A political stalemate existed in the country since the elections in April. The elections produced no clear winner, and al-Maliki refused to step down. Thus, when the country was run over by ISIS in the summer, the politicians were bickering amongst themselves. There are even indications that the senior military officers commanding Mosul ordered their soldiers to lay down their weapons and run without fighting the ISIS takeover. Only a few days ago, a coalition government was finally agreed on, with Haider al-Abadi (from the once banned Islamist al-Da'wah Party) as Prime Minister.

It seems that the main reason for the rapid takeover by ISIS of large parts of northern Iraq was the tacit support it received from the Sunni population. Shi'is, Kurds, Assyrian Christians, Yazidis, Turkmen, and anyone else who did not fit into the new "Caliphate" were decapitated, forced to pay the jizyah, or fled. An unholy alliance of former Ba'thists, Sunni tribesmen, and violent Jihadis (many of whom come from abroad) forms the basis of the "Islamic State".

Because of this support, Obama's air strike strategy is misplaced and dangerous. In reality, ISIS is quite a small organisation with a few tens of thousands fighters - but they control a population of millions. How, then, can the US decide who is a target? The "Islamic State" is not a conventional state with clearly defined military targets - it is little more than a few bases held by guerrilla groups within a largely supportive civilian population. American "precision bombing" is likely to be as "effective" as it has been in Yemen and Afghanistan where civilian casualties have been the norm rather than the exception - with a steady stream of new recruits to ISIS to follow as a result.

The strategy of "degrading and destroying" ISIS this way is therefore likely to fail without a comprehensive political solution involving an equitable share of power for the Sunni population in Iraq, a withdrawal of American support for Syrian rebels, and the forcing of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other Gulf states to stop sponsoring Islamist terrorist groups throughout the region.

Thomas Tamblyn   |   September 12, 2014    9:44 AM ET

A man wearing a Pikachu hat and a stuffed Pikachu backpack has been taken into custody after jumping the north lawn fence of the White House and walking on the lawn.

The superfan hopped over the fence and headed in the direction of the White House only to find himself being swiftly dump tackled to the ground by the Secret Service.

The event was caught by bystanders who immediately took to Twitter to share the news of the deviant Pikachu fan.

It's not yet clear why the gentlemen wanted to gain access to the White House or indeed if the bright yellow Pikachu hat is in any way connected.

Our Obligation to the Memory of the Victims of 9/11

Jon Snow   |   September 11, 2014    2:17 PM ET

Thirteen years on, have we learned from 9/11?

Could any of us have imagined that the attack on America by mainly Saudi-born radicals on this very day 13 years ago, would represent one of the most defining events of modern history?

From my own experience reporting sporadically across the region for over three decades, my fear is that we have not learned.

For most of the years since the second world war the contract has been clear: Gulf oil for the west in exchange for Western weapons, security, banking and commerce - no questions asked. Across the west our generous gates have allowed the most radical Muslim preachers to criss-cross the globe carrying their Wahabi messages of extremism.

Pakistan, once so recognisable a legacy of Empire, now represents the most unstable nuclear power in the world - its landscape dotted with radical Madrassas and Mosques. A whole generation of Muslim children far beyond Saudi borders, from Birmingham to Bombay, know no other view of the world than the Saudi-spawned Wahabi view of their faith.


2014-09-11-911channel4jonsnow.jpg


Thirteen years after 9/11, an English speaking voice articulates the beheading of an American hostage. There are hundreds of western Muslims in the ranks of Islamic State (IS).

In waging unwise and horrific war themselves in Iraq, western powers have forfeited their capacity overtly to bolster moderate regional forces in Syria and Iraq.

In spite of the warrior pose President Obama deployed on Wednesday night, his instinct is still for the regional powers around Syria and Iraq to resolve the Islamic State madness themselves.

One is tempted to ask how many of the 1,700 military jets that the collective west has sold to Saudi and Gulf states down the years, have yet left the ground in anger against IS. How many of the Sandhurst trained officers from the region have yet been spotted in the field?

We may be part of IS's target, just as New York and Washington were the targets of other regional radicals on 9/11.

But this time those same regional states from which the 9/11 gang sprang, know that they are now the targets too.

Watching regional events from Iran in the last week, I observed a quiet acceptance that the Shia forces in Iraq needed leadership, strategy, and gumption that only Iran's revolutionary guard and ancillary resources could provide - and providing it they are.

And let us not forget what a top Iranian Foreign Ministry official told me which I reported several years ago; "you think we sit here in Iran fearing Israel, or America. We don't, our fear is the radical implosion of Pakistan and nuclear implications of radical Sunni Muslims with their hands on nuclear weapons firing them at Shia Iran".

There is a fire raging in Arabia today, which we in the west are not competent to extinguish. There is regional power to do the job, and we should not interfere with them getting on with it.

But those same regional powers should know, should even be told, that they cannot enjoy our friendship, our open gates, our Mayfair Hotels, our city finance unconditionally. Our condition must surely be that they distinguish themselves from the extremist forces that some of them knowingly, or unknowingly, have spawned, and deal with the effluent that is IS.

If the 3,000 dead of 9/11 are to be remembered with honour, we have an obligation to get this crisis right this time.

This blog was originally posted on Channel Four's Snowblog, and can be read here

Fighting the Urge to Overreact

Hilary Stauffer   |   September 11, 2014   11:07 AM ET

Last night, on the eve of the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, President Obama laid out the justification for American military action against the Islamic State (IS) terrorist organisation.

At least in part, his address to the nation was based on the the terrible images of IS fanatics beheading American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, which spread around the world like wildfire in recent weeks. The sickening pictures prompted vigorous online debates about the most appropriate response to their transmission: to view or not to view? In viewing the videos, radical Islamists were finding a captive audience for their message of hate. But by not viewing the videos, Westerners were refusing to fully acknowledge the violent extremism in their midst.

Not surprisingly, the beheadings also prompted anguished navel-gazing among Western leaders, who yet again were forced to confront the not-insignificant question of how to best respond to radical Islam. Unfortunately, so far most of the answers have been of the fear-mongering variety. The United Kingdom is threatening to strip suspected jihadists of their passports; the White House has concluded that while there is no 'imminent danger' to the US homeland, foreign fighters returning from Iraq and Syria could pose a significant 'threat' to American interests both home and abroad.

Such sentiments by political leaders are not entirely without foundation. In the not-too-distant past, both the US and UK have been victims of terrorist attacks by those professing to adhere to an extreme interpretation of Islam. Neither country has yet found an effective response to the culture clash being foisted upon them against their will. But there is a real danger that the governments in these and other Western nations will use the menace posed by the Islamic State to further erode civil liberties and democratic values, somehow discounting the fact that the last decade of scare tactics and hysteria hasn't made their countries any safer.

We've been here before. Guantanamo Bay prison camp--festering like an open wound off the coast of Florida--is a visceral reminder of what happens when the panicked need to 'do something' overtakes common sense. But the West's collective impulse to instinctively overreact in the face of an apparent existential threat first manifested decades before Osama Bin Laden planned the 9/11 attacks. Back then, the common enemy was Communism.

The Cold War was used to rationalise a multitude of sins, not least among them nuclear proliferation. But successive administrations in the United States also used it to justify political witch hunts, dodgy deals with discredited authorities, and proxy wars in Asia, Africa and Latin America--all in the name of 'fighting Communism'. Untold human rights abuses were perpetuated by dictators allied with the United States, who turned a blind eye to their injustices, so long as they promised to affiliate themselves with Washington instead of Moscow. As late as the 1980s, the US government was still formally allied with the apartheid regime in South Africa, because of the suspected 'communist' leanings of Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress. Mandela himself was on a 'terrorist watchlist' until 2008, in what is surely one of America's more embarrassing administrative oversights.

There is zero indication that any of the IS leadership has Mandela-like ambitions for peace, reconciliation and racial harmony. Very much the opposite, in fact--they have pledged to overrun and subjugate everyone who is not 'believer', whatever that means in their twisted notions of the Muslim faith. This unquestionably includes Americans and their allies. But cooler heads need to prevail in the War Room--because when the United States overreacts and ignores its own stated ideals in the fight against extremist political views, it gives everyone else a free pass to do so as well. Plenty of undemocratic governments are looking for any acceptable excuse to infringe the rights of their people, and 'anti-terrorism' laws are very attractive in this regard.

In his speech last night, the President stated that the United States had a 'responsibility to lead', and that the values of freedom, justice, and dignity underpin American leadership in an uncertain world. Adherence to these principles has been found wanting in recent years; let's hope that policymakers remember them while they search for a comprehensive response to the Islamic State's provocations.

*An earlier version of this article first appeared in the Express Tribune.*

Paul Vale   |   September 11, 2014    2:17 AM ET

NEW YORK -- Addressing the nation late on Wednesday evening, President Obama detailed the US strategy for "degrading and defeating" the threat of the Islamic State, formerly ISIS (ISIL), which includes the authorisation of air strikes against the terrorist group within Syria.

"We will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists," he said. "Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense. 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."

The president, who had been roundly criticised in recent weeks for his lack of strategy to combat the growing jihadist threat across Iraq and Syria, said that an addition 475 service personnel would be sent to Iraq to assist local forces, but reassured the American people that US troops would not be returning to ground combat, following the disastrous conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Speaking from the White House on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary, Obama said: "This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists, who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years."

Without over-hyping the threat of the Islamic State – "We have not seen any immediate intelligence about threats to the homeland from ISIL," he said – Obama made the point that if the militant forces were left "unchecked" they could eventually threaten Europe and the US.

"So tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat," he said. "Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy."

To read the full text of Obama's address to the nation, go here.

SEE ALSO:

Paul Vale   |   September 10, 2014    7:08 PM ET

NEW YORK -- Anyone grasping for a better idea of the politics of Barack Obama should red Mein Kampf, according to one likely Republican Presidential candidate.

Speaking on the Newsmax channel, Ben Carson, a mouse-spoken former doctor, whose past hits include calling the provision of affordable healthcare "the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery" and equating gays with people who practise bestiality, advised viewers to read Hitler’s national socialist tome, as well as the works of Vladimir Lenin in reference to the current President and Attorney General Eric Holder.

The bespectacled Republican, who in recent years has criticised Obama for trying to turn the US into a Nazi state (Communism and Nazism appear to be interchangeable to the good doctor), also advocated for a book called The Naked Communist, a Cold War polemic that sets out an agenda for the Soviet Union to infiltrate and take over governments across the world.

"It shows the whole timeline of what would be necessary in gaining control of school systems, of unions and eventually a foothold in government and the executive branch," he said.

…and yes, Ben Carson really does want to stand for President.

SEE ALSO:

(H/T RightWingWatch)

  |   September 9, 2014   12:06 PM ET

We've all been there, that feeling of unadulterated boredom that comes when forced into your smartest clothes and involuntarily made to mingle with people you really don't want to.

While for most of us that experience is limited to awkward work meetings and family get togethers, this young man was seemingly driven to soul-destroying boredom by the President of the United States.

As Barack Obama chatted with the boy's parents, a departing Secret Service agent and his wife, the little boy reacted to his plight in glorious fashion - by face-planting onto a couch in the Oval Office.

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The majestic dive, captured by Lawrence Jackson, was released as the White House revealed some candid behind-the-scenes photographs from June on its official Flickr account.

In other candid photos involving the US president and other, slightly more interested-looking children, Obama recently made a family's day when he swapped "banter" with three young boys during his sightseeing trip to Stonehenge.

Janice Raffle, a mum of three who runs 10K races dressed as a bee to raise money for Cancer Research UK, rushed to the famous monument with her husband and sons after hearing that the leader of the free world was paying a surprise visit.

The family, who live nearby, shook hands with the US president and chatted to him over a barbed wire fence as he toured the ancient site in Wiltshire last week.

A delighted Raffle shared the moment the family tracked down the President on Twitter.

Obama had taken advantage of his attendance at the Nato summit in Wales to visit the historic site.

Raffle told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "He was really sweet, he asked all our names, whether we lived in the area, which we've only just moved to two weeks ago.

"He commented on the fresh air and the beautiful countryside and also said that I was quite outnumbered because I have three little boys as well as my husband."

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President Barack Obama greets the family

She also told the BBC: "There was a bit of banter between the boys, saying boys are best and he said 'Well, I don't know if I agree with that'. He was really kind, it was a really amazing experience for all of us."

Her husband, James Raffle, said the chance encounter had been "incredible".

He told ITV News: "He was worried about the kids on the barbed wire fence. He was worried about Janice because she was overrun with boys."

Seeing Stonehenge had been on the president's "bucket list" of things to do and he stunned onlookers when he squeezed in the visit after the final day of the Nato summit in south Wales.

SEE ALSO:

The Case for British Strikes Against the Islamic State

James Snell   |   September 9, 2014   12:00 AM ET

The case for American attacks on the Islamic State is eminently clear. Diplomatic personnel need to be protected; a nation which is barely emerging from the dual quagmires of dictatorship and reconstruction cannot be allowed to simply fall apart; and ethnic and religious minorities must be rescued from the genocidal ambitions of the sort of adventure-hungry savages who delight in taunting captives before their brutal executions (and beheading a journalist only days after receiving an emotional appeal for his safety from his mother).

British involvement in this most grave of international crises has been suggested, but apparently a majority of the public are against military action. The isolationist bent which besets these islands is something I have documented in the past, but rarely has it manifested itself with such a self-defeating and outright dangerous obstinacy.

First we must consider our own interests. It takes a certain degree of delusion to imagine that a group as brutal, well armed and well financed as IS would refrain from attacking us in the West for any reason. After all, IS is by its nature expansionary: it has purposefully dissolved national borders in aid of the creation of a caliphate. In addition, it is all too happy to kill citizens of Western nations. Anti-Western sentiment forms a great deal of its propaganda.  Prominent supporters in Europe and elsewhere delight at the prospect of governments which currently hold sway there facing an aggressive challenge from outside.

But, even if IS did not pose a direct threat to us, there would still be a formidable case for action. National interests extend further than national borders, and the ties between nations and peoples cannot be forgotten for transient political expediency - and nor should they be. The Kurdish peoples have been a constant and long-standing ally of ours. More than that, they are the largest stateless minority in the Middle East, and have suffered barbaric persecution and mass murder at the hands of the Iraqi state under Saddam Hussein.

Aiding them in their fight against IS is therefore vital on two fronts. IS must be defeated, and the Kurds must be supported at every possible opportunity. But leaving the peshmerga to take on this vicious enemy alone is merely outsourcing our responsibilities. If we truly want to help the Kurds, we must be brave enough - financially, militarily and politically - to do everything in our power to aid them in their struggle.

Britain is a rich nation. Here, we possess one of the most powerful militaries on the planet and enjoy - despite recession and financial woe - one of the world's most bountiful treasuries. We enjoy close alliance and co-operation with partners across the globe. America has already begun the necessary process of, in that clunky phrase, 'degrading' the capacity of IS to advance further and to hold the territory it has already conquered. We also have the ability to do so. We must act on it.

With air support from the United States, Kurdish fighters retook Mosul Dam last month. The same process (a ground assault aided from the air) has now begun in Haditha. In a land as dry as Iraq - military operations in the area invariably attract the unfortunate prefix 'Desert' - this is not nothing. Controlling the water supply is a vital step towards wresting the nation itself from the hands of the fanatics.

Whenever someone tells me, and it is frequently said, that those in Washington who ordered these airstrikes are not 'learning the lessons of occupation' or that merely fighting IS will not yield any results, I show them a photograph of the biggest dam in the Iraq from last month. In it, the flag of the Islamic State flies freely. That is no longer the case. That black flag - now as symbolic of violence and criminality and lawlessness as any in history - has been torn down, and replaced with one more visually and politically appealing.

Again, it must be said: this isn't nothing, and anyone who says otherwise betrays contempt, subconscious or not, for the Kurdish and Iraqi volunteers who liberated that dam from the Islamic State with US assistance. After all, would you rather they attempted to do so without help? The only honest answer an anti-war type can give to that is 'yes', and in that their principles are flagrantly violated. There is a war already going on in Iraq and Syria - and we in the West did not start it.

But the fight back against IS is gaining momentum. That was accomplished with American help. With British firepower added to the table - as well as our intelligence-gathering capacity and diplomatic connections - defeating the terrorist state can only become easier.

And to those who are prone to muttering that by attacking Islamic State forces and killing IS fighters we are 'giving the terrorists what they want,' I have this to say: If that is giving them what they want, it is a rare point of convergence between our objectives and theirs; a coming together of preferred outcomes. Let us not fail to exploit it. These are the people who have massacred whole communities on the basis of religion or sect, who have sold women into sexual slavery on a sickening scale, who have terrorised civilian populations with arbitrary and barbaric rule. If the same jihadi warriors truly wish to die by Western bombs and bullets, we should do everything in our collective powers to oblige them.

We can, with our technology, our material and our enviable financial position, intervene on the right side. We can fight the aggressors, the fascists, and rescue Iraq from the scourge of Islamist violence. But this is only possible in coalition, in alliance. Leaving the Kurds to fight the Islamic State alone is immoral; abandoning Iraq is equally bad; and letting the United States shoulder the burdens of internationalism alone fails the very definition of the term.

IS must be defeated, and we in Britain must join our allies in making that happen.

James Snell is a Contributing Editor of The Libertarian

Jack Sommers   |   September 7, 2014   11:14 PM ET

Barack Obama has insisted "we're going to defeat" Islamic State (IS) and said he will sketch out a plan to do in a speech later this week.

Without revealing details of any planned US action, he said America would engaged in something "similar to the kinds of counter-terrorism campaigns that we've been engaging in consistently over the last five, six, seven years".

He will give his speech on Wednesday, the day before the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Speaking to NBC's Meet The Press today, Obama, who was elected president on a platform of getting US soldiers out of Iraq, said: "This is not going to be an announcement about U.S. ground troops. This is not the equivalent of the Iraq war.

"The good news is is that because of American leadership, we have I believe, a broad-based coalition internationally and regionally to be able to deal with the problem."

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Obama has said the West will 'defeat' IS

Obama has been accused of being indecisive over IS as it has torn through Syria and Iraq. He told reporters last month "we don't have a strategy yet".

The strategy he will announce on Wednesday will have political and military elements, he said today, which would "systematically degrade" the terror group.

He said: "We are going to be as part of an international coalition, carrying out air strikes in support of work on the ground by Iraqi troops, Kurdish troops.

"We are going to be helping to put together a plan for them, so that they can start retaking territory that ISIL (former name of IS) had taken over."

He said the West would "have to work hard" to attract back Sunni tribes in Iraq which were shunned by the Malaki government, which favoured Shia muslims with government appointments and alienated the Sunnis - who enjoyed more power under Saddam Hussein.

Islamic State:

He continued: "So there's going to be an economic element to this. There's going to be a political element to it. There's going to be a military element to it.

"And what I want people to understand, though, is that over the course of months, we are going to be able to not just blunt the momentum of ISIL.

"We are going to systematically degrade their capabilities. We're going to shrink the territory that they control. And ultimately we're going to defeat them."

Obama was speaking after attending the Nato summit in Newport, Wales with other leaders of Nato countries.

Last week, former UK foreign secretary Jack Straw gave a withering critique of the president's foreign policy, saying: "Much though I respect him, I think, if you like, he is very long on analysis and not quite as fleet as foot at being decisive, and you need a balance if you are the president of the United States."

  |   September 6, 2014   10:46 AM ET

Barack Obama made a family' s day when he swapped "banter" with three young boys during his sightseeing trip to Stonehenge, their mother has said.

Janice Raffle, a mum of three who runs 10K races dressed as a bee to raise money for Cancer Research UK, rushed to the famous monument with her husband and sons after hearing that the leader of the free world was paying a surprise visit.

The family, who live nearby, shook hands with the US president and chatted to him over a barbed wire fence as he toured the ancient site in Wiltshire yesterday.

"I squealed like a teenager. You’d think I would know better," Mrs Raffle told ITV.

A delighted Mrs Raffle shared the moment the family tracked down the President on Twitter.

Mr Obama had taken advantage of his attendance at the Nato summit in Wales to visit the historic site.

Mrs Raffle told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "He was really sweet, he asked all our names, whether we lived in the area, which we've only just moved to two weeks ago.

"He commented on the fresh air and the beautiful countryside and also said that I was quite outnumbered because I have three little boys as well as my husband."

stonehenge

President Barack Obama greets the family

She also told the BBC: "There was a bit of banter between the boys, saying boys are best and he said 'Well, I don't know if I agree with that'. He was really kind, it was a really amazing experience for all of us."

Her husband, James Raffle, said the chance encounter had been "incredible".

He told ITV News: "He was worried about the kids on the barbed wire fence. He was worried about Janice because she was overrun with boys."

Seeing Stonehenge had been on the president's "bucket list" of things to do and he stunned onlookers when he squeezed in the visit after the final day of the Nato summit in south Wales.

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  |   September 6, 2014    8:14 AM ET

The UK has pledged to stand beside America in global efforts to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State militants fighting in Syria and Iraq, in a struggle that could last up to three years.

Nato has launched a a "core coalition" of 10 countries – led by the United States and including the UK, France, Germany, Canada and Australia – to tackle jihadists, amid speculation that Britain could soon join airstrikes.

The alliance's summit in Wales wrapped up with Cameron urging a "comprehensive plan" to deal with the growing threat, while refusing to rule out military intervention to defend our “national interest”.

cameron isis

But there were some signs of tensions, with UK officials concerned that the US is not putting enough emphasis on involving regional powers, and the French indicating they are not prepared to take part in military action in Syria.

IS militants have threatened to kill Scottish aid worker David Haines who they are believed to be holding in Syria. They have already beheaded two American journalists, posting the evidence on line in gruesome videos featuring a masked jihadist with a British accent.

US president Barack Obama insisted Nato members were "unanimous" in their commitment to stamp out to the "extremist nihilism" of IS - also known as ISIL and ISIS.

"We are going to achieve our goal. We are going to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL, the same way that we have gone after al Qaida," he told a press conference.

At his own press conference, Cameron said: "My argument is you need that mixture of intelligent politics, diplomatic pressure, long-term engagement in a comprehensive plan as well as the potential for military or other more aggressive action.

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Prime Minister David Cameron holds a news conference at the end of the NATO Summit at Celtic Manor in Newport, South Wales

"This will take time and it will take resolve. We will proceed carefully and methodically, drawing together the partners we need, above all in the region, to implement a comprehensive plan."

Despite evidence that Tory MPs are being canvassed over whether they would support involvement in airstrikes, Cameron said Britain was not yet at the stage where it was ready to take offensive military action.

He is thought to want to wait at least until a more inclusive Iraqi government is formed - which could happen next week.

Earlier, US secretary of state John Kerry appeared to try to up the tempo, calling for agreement on an international plan for dealing with IS by the time of the general meeting United Nations General Assembly in New York later this month.

Kerry and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond jointly chaired a meeting of foreign and defence ministers from what the US called a "core coalition" of allies to discuss the way forward to eradicate the “genocidal, territorial-grabbing, caliphate-desiring” fighters.

Ministers from France, Australia, Germany, Canada, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Denmark were also at the talks.

"We have the technology, we have the know-how. What we need is obviously the willpower to make sure that we are steady and stay at this," Kerry said.

“We’re convinced in the days ahead we have the ability to destroy Isil. It may take a year, it may take two years, it may take three years. But we’re determined.”

There was some irritation among British officials at the apparent attempt to put a group of predominantly North American and European nations at the forefront of the effort at a time when they are seeking to build support from allies in the region.

Earlier Hammond said the Government will not be deterred from launching air strikes against IS by threats to the life of a British hostage they are holding.

"We will do everything we can to protect this individual (Mr Haines) but we have to be clear about the nature of the organisation that we are dealing with," Hammond told BBC News.

"They are utterly brutal, they are ideologically driven - almost pathological in the way that they behave. We cannot allow our strategy to be driven by their behaviour.

"We have to approach the challenge of Isil with focus purely on what is in Britain's best interests - protecting our citizens and our security from the threat that Isil poses from foreign fighters, from potential attacks on our soil, destabilisation of the region.

"We will not be diverted from doing what is right by the threats from this organisation."

Haines, 44, has a teenage daughter in Scotland from a previous marriage and a four-year-old daughter in Croatia from his present marriage.

Educated at Perth Academy secondary school, he has worked for aid agencies in some of the world's worst trouble spots, including Libya and South Sudan.

He was in Libya during its civil war in 2011, working as head of mission for Handicap International, which helps disabled people in poverty and conflict zones around the world.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph at the family's home near Zagreb, his wife Dragana Prodanovic Haines, 44, said: "He's everything to us. He's our life. He's a fantastic man and father.

"Nobody can understand how we are feeling. My daughter keeps asking about him every day. She hasn't seen her father for a year and a half. She has gone through so much. She sees me crying all the time."

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Paul Vale   |   September 5, 2014    8:14 PM ET

Having concluded the Nato summit in Wales, President Obama visited the historical site of Stonehenge in Wiltshire on Friday, touring the prehistoric monument with English Heritage curator Heather Sebire.

Addressing reporters, Obama quipped, "How cool is this?... Knocked it off the bucket list." Having run against John McCain in 2008, this is not the first time Obama has encountered an ancient, rigid Neolithic structure. Still, the President was clearly impressed, telling Sebire, "It's spectacular, it's spectacular. It's a special place."

obama

The ancient stones could even predate GOP attitudes towards women

After the visit the curator said: "Mr Obama was fascinated by the story of the stones, what we know about them and the mysteries that have yet to be solved. He asked lots of questions about how old the monument is, how long it took to build it, and what was its purpose.

"He described the atmosphere around the stones as ‘really special’ and his visit to Stonehenge as ‘a highlight of my tour’. He particularly loved seeing the colour and texture of the stones. It was a beautiful still evening and it was a privilege to show the US President around this unique monument which continues to inspire and intrigue people."

The visit also resulted in what is being hailed as the greatest piece of live-tweeting in the long history of Wiltshire. The poster was Janice Raffle, a mum of three who runs 10K races dressed as a bee to raise money for Cancer Research UK.

Upon hearing rumours that the US Commander-in-Chief was in the neighbourhood, the family hiked up to the site hoping to get a glance of the President... only for Obama to wave, walk over, shake hands and have the mandatory picture taken. "I squealed like a teenager. You’d think I would know better," Raffle told ITV.

As one respondent to the final post succinctly put it, "Noway!!!! Lol. OMG".

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