This week, after nearly four years of civil war, the United States and her allies have finally intervened in Syria. It is far too late and, in attacking only the Islamic State and not the regime, it only deals with half of the problem. Nevertheless, barring a sudden period of rapprochement with the Assad tyranny, this move is a good one. We may only be combating some of our enemies in the region, but it is a start; and with President Obama's foreign policy history as chequered as it is - half-measures such as the disastrous failure of reconstruction in Libya and inaction have taken precedence over necessary military intervention - any step in the right direction must be welcomed. Here, I set out why, even though it is partial, and even though more will need to be done, Obama's action is the right one.
The Islamic State is a hideous organisation. That is well known to all but the most blinkered and casual of observers. The Syrian and Iraqi peoples have suffered under the heel of its potentates and acolytes for months, even years. It seemed that no one was listening then. When an American journalist, James Foley, was beheaded by IS in a video released on the internet, however, those living in the West began to sit up and take interest. He was the first victim of this new wave of violence specifically and publicly targeted at Westerners. He would not be the last.
Steven Sotloff, another foreign correspondent held by IS, also met his grisly end at the razor edge of a ceremonial blade. He was both a Jew and an Israeli citizen. He managed to keep that secret. His fate would likely have been far worse - if that thought is possible to process - if his murderers had found out. Days before the tragedy, his mother had released a statement in which she begged for his life. Her pleas were met with silence. These are the people who decapitate non-combatants mere days after receiving emotional appeals for their release, it seems.
David Haines, a British aid worker, was the third captive Westerner to be put to death on film. There will in all likelihood be more.
The slaughter of David Haines in particular by Islamic State fighters was utterly appalling but entirely predictable. The men who carried out this monstrous deed thought the result would be to their favour: That which is laughably referred to as the 'international community' would back off, and let them get on with terrorising Iraq and Syria - where many thousands, largely unknown to the wider world, have met fates similar to the three men I have mentioned.
Not only did that not happen, it would have been disgraceful if it had. A certain degree of callousness is to be - regrettably - expected in national leaders. Sometimes they will sit back and let horrors and outrages occur. We must not endorse this morality, but we can recognise that it happens; in Syria especially, the public and the political leadership of Western nations have been far too reluctant to act. This is not such an occasion.
When a citizen of their own nation is killed, presidents and prime ministers the world over do not let the event simply pass them by. While it is possible to turn a blind eye to the suffering of other peoples on other continents - and many in Britain and America have been doing so in the case of Syria since before the Islamic State first officially split with al-Qaeda in February of this year, and even before President Assad first began his brutal crackdown against pro-democracy protestors in March 2011 - there is still the almost familial loyalty to fellow citizens, real or imagined, that can be called upon in times such as this.
For Britain especially, the nation has more to digest than the loss of a man who was born and brought up on these islands. The killer, perhaps in all three cases, perhaps in 'only' one or two, has been identified internationally as British. This, coupled with the realisation that British jihadis constitute up to a quarter of foreigners who fight under the banner of the Islamic State, may prove difficult to treat entirely dispassionately.
This murder has elicited retaliation. It is be overdue, and the stated reason for it is narrow. That does not mean it is in anyway unjustified or wrong.
The Islamic State admitted to and, bizarrely, apologised for footage of Steven Sotloff's final moments entering the public domain earlier than planned. This revelation is important, because it dispels the idea that these war crimes follow a perverse Newtonian model: they are not subject to the laws of cause and effect, as some witting or unwitting apologists for terror would suggest.
Rather than being the result of US airstrikes, or British support for the embattled Kurds, this execution-style barbarity needs to be shown for what it is: entirely arbitrary and terrifyingly capricious. Only when we recognise this truth about our enemies - and they are our enemies (as the old leftish slogan has it, 'Fascism Means War') - can we begin to dissociate from them a self-defeating myth. They are not rational actors with legitimate grievances; they cannot be simply spoken to, or treated better and thereby stopped.
For, despite the appearance of strength, IS has overplayed its hand. In murdering citizens of two of the world's most powerful nations, it has given shape to the coalition now ranged against it. The Islamic State is rattled; giving it space and consciously avoiding escalation, as many on the self-described 'anti-imperialist' Left suggest, would be playing into its hands.
With the weight of the world slowly but definitely gathering on the side of the Iraqi, Kurdish and Syrian peoples, that disgusting act has begun to backfire on the Islamic State. Many nations joined the United States in attacking IS positions in Syria, just as many peoples have suffered under its heel.
There are legitimate criticisms of President Obama's strategy in the region, and he must go yet further if he wants to truly combat the root causes of the horrific situation now engulfing Syria and its neighbours. However, this specific action is one undertaken in the right direction. Fighting the Islamic State is entirely necessary, both in Iraq and Syria. In this, at least, the eventual decision Obama has made is just and right.
James Snell is a Contributing Editor of The Libertarian