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Shift in U.S. attitude over involvement in Syria after Foley execution

August 24, 2014 at 6:18 PM EST
The execution of journalist James Foley by the Islamic State has shifted the U.S. administration's attitude toward involvement in Syria. Dion Nissenbaum of The Wall Street Journal joins Hari Sreenivasan from Washington, D.C. to discuss what options the U.S. has in Syria.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Joining us now from Washington D.C. is Dion Nissenbaum of The Wall Street Journal.

It seems the pace of change here and the U.S. attitude in involvement in Syria or in airstrikes has changed dramatically just in the last 24-36 hours.

DION NISSENBAUM: Yes there’s no question that the beheading of James Foley changed the calculus for the administration here and the rhetoric ramped up almost immediately.

You heard Secretary of State John Kerry saying that their wickedness, it has to be destroyed. The pentagon is really escalating its efforts to identify targets inside Syria.

They’re looking at expanding the air campaign in Iraq. I think militarily they could expand this fairly quickly.

I think what we need to see in the coming week is whether there’s the political will to move in this direction and you’ll probably remember it was a year ago that we were having a similar conversation after president Assad was accused of the chemical weapons attack in Damascus that killed hundreds of people and President Obama was seeking support for military strikes in Syria at that point as well.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The narrative seems to be now in Washington on whether or not the Islamic State is a threat to the homeland.

DION NISSENBAUM: Well, and there’s no question they’re a growing threat to Americans. From the Islamic State’s perspective, they’re saying that the airstrikes in Iraq that President Obama authorized are an attack on them and now they’re turning their focus on us.

Now, the question is are they a threat on the continental United States and that’s very much open for debate.

Martin Dempsey, the top general for America said as recently as this week that he believes they are a regional threat, that they are a threat to the region but that they couldn’t stage any kind of 9/11 type attack on the United States.

Now as you’ll hear a lot of people say the enemy has a vote in this and they’re clearly turning their focus now towards us and we don’t know what that means.

The biggest concern for them are these foreign fighters like the man who apparently beheaded James Foley who had a British accent is believed to have ties to England, and whether those people could come back in ones or twos or threes and carry out attacks in Europe and the United States.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is there any concern or thought being given to the fact that if you do launch airstrikes in a sovereign nation, I mean would that be declaration of war?

DION NISSENBAUM: Well this is the debate that I think we’re going to have to see play out this week and I think the administration is trying to figure out what their rationale would be.

The initial signals from the administration are that they might use the broad self-defense argument that they would be attacking Islamic State fighters that they believe are an imminent threat to Americans.

But there are those in Congress that believe that the president can and should come to them for support for authorization for a broader war and the president himself has indicated that he’s willing to do this and he’s thought about doing this in the past but we need to see what he’s thinking and we’ve seen him change his thinking on this in the past and we don’t know exactly where they will come down.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright, Dion Nissenbaum from The Wall Street Journal joining us from Washington, thanks so much.

DION NISSENBAUM: Thank you, Hari.