Dangerous alliances: ISIS targets American allies

Obama Goldman BTV Pic

As ISIS targets British citizens a friendship with the US may not always be in British interests.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have begun to target allies of America in an effort to disrupt President Barack Obama’s attempts to build a broad coalition against the militant group. On Saturday, British aid worker, David Haines became the first non-American, Western victim of the ISIS’s gruesome beheading videos. The video, entitled “A Message to the Allies of America”, is similar to the executions of the two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff. The executioner is believed to be the same British man and the location also appears to be the same as before. The video also ends, like the other two, by naming the next victim – another British aid worker, Alan Henning.

ISIS is attempting to show that an alliance with the US is a very dangerous friendship to have and it is no coincidence the first non-American victim of these videos is British. Britain has been keen to offer friendship to the US in its fight against ISIS. It has been the only other nation to consider air strikes and is one of a “core coalition” of nations, announced at the NATO summit in Wales this month, which has attempted to create a strategy against ISIS and strengthen allies in Syria and Iraq in their fight against the militants. The executioner claimed that Haines would “pay the price” for these decisions.

During the video Haines is forced to read a speech in which he holds British Prime Minister David Cameron directly responsible for his death, he states:

“"You entered voluntarily into a coalition with the United States against the Islamic State, just as your predecessor, Tony Blair, did. Following a trend amongst our British Prime Ministers who can't find the courage to say no to the Americans”.

The executioner also directly addresses Cameron and claims his “evil alliance with America” will lead to his “destruction”. He says “playing the role of the obedient lapdog Cameron will only drag you and your people into another bloody and unwinnable war”.

Cameron called an emergency meeting with Britain’s top security and military officials to form a response to the beheading. This response, despite the close relations with the US and the strong stance against ISIS being highlighted as the reasons for Haines’s beheading, consisted of more of the same. Cameron said ISIS needed to be confronted and that “keeping our heads down” is not an option. Further, he reaffirmed his support for the US military action.

Cameron’s hard stance is in line with British policy, which – like the US – is strictly against concessions in hostage situations. Many have agreed it, such as Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, who said it was vital that Britain took some “serious action” against ISIS. However, others have stated that Cameron must be careful of being overly aggressive, for example Paul Rogers, professor of peace studies at Bradford University, has said attacking may be exactly what the extremists want because it gives them an opportunity to look like they are fighting the enemy. Similarly, Frank Ledwidge said Britain should “understand our national interests and equate what we do with those interests”. Importantly, these interests may not always lie where America is leading.

On the international stage some countries have avoided such eager following of the US with the hope that they may ensure the safety of their own hostages. For example Turkey has avoided confrontation with ISIS due to the 49 Turkish diplomats that have been taken by the militant group. Thus, Turkey has been supportive but has avoided being so forceful that its citizens. While it has said it will continue to share intelligence with the US and provide logistical support to the Syrian opposition as well as humanitarian aid to Syrians affected by the conflict, it has refused to allow the use of its airbases. Further, while it attended a conference on last Thursday – with the US and other Arab nations – it refused to sign the final joint communiqué which endorsed a broad strategy to stop the flow of volunteers to ISIS, curtail its financing and provide aid to communities that had been “brutalised” by the militants.

It is important to note that Turkey’s decision did not cause the US to cut-off ties with the country or cause too much animosity between them, as one US official said: “we understand the challenging situation Turkey is in given their detained diplomats and they will make the decision on what role they can play moving forward”.

There are no easy answers and ISIS remains a major international problem but, when British aid workers are threatened by our eagerness to join the US militarily; it is worth reconsidering our approach. Cameron should avoid assuming that allegiances with the US will always be beneficial to British interest, especially when the lives of British hostages lie in the balance.