President Obama on Wednesday vowed the United States would remain vigilant in its efforts against Islamist militants in Iraq after the brutal execution of photojournalist James Foley.
“The United States of America will continue to do what we must to do protect our people,” Obama said in remarks from Martha's Vineyard, where he is vacationing.
“We will be vigilant and we will be relentless. When people harm Americans anywhere, we do what is necessary to make sure justice is done,” he said.
Obama said the entire world was “appalled” by Foley's killing, and that the beheading was “an act of violence that shocks the conscience.” He said he had spoken to Foley's parents earlier in the day to extend his condolences.
“The world is shaped by people like Jim Foley, and the overwhelming majority of humanity who are appalled by those who killed him,” Obama said.
Obama spent the majority of his remarks denouncing the tactics and mission of ISIS, a group that has rampaged through broad swaths of Iraq and Syria in pursuit of an Islamist state.
“ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings,” the president said, using an alternative abbreviation for the group. “Their ideology is bankrupt. They may claim out of expediency that they are at war with the United States or the West, but the fact is they terrorize their neighbors and offer them nothing but an endless slavery to their empty vision and the collapse of any definition of civilized behavior."
Obama sought to turn allies in the Middle East against the terror group, calling for "a common effort to extract this cancer so that it does not spread."
"There has to be a clear rejection of this kind of nihilistic ideologies," the president said. "One thing we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century."
Obama said the conflict was not a religious one, but rather one of a shared "common security and a common set of values."
"ISIL speaks for no religion," Obama said. "Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just god would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings."
The president also argued that “people like this ultimately fail.”
“They fail because the future is won by those who build and not destroy,” Obama said.
“James Foley went to the darkest of places to shine the light of truth,” Secretary of State John Kerry said later in a statement. “He was brave and bold, and no masked coward can ever steal the legacy of this courageous American who lived out the meaning of the word journalism.”
“There are no words of condolence that can adequately convey our sorrow, our sympathy, or our anger for what has happened,” he added.
The president ordered airstrikes in Iraq earlier this month, citing ISIS attempts to execute minority Iraqis living in the country's Kurdish regions and concerns over American personnel stationed in Erbil and Baghdad.
Over the weekend, the White House said it was expanding that mission to include other ISIS targets, and on Monday the president announced that Iraqi and Kurdish forces had retaken the Mosul Dam — a crucial infrastructure target — with the aid of U.S. airstrikes.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) suggested Wednesday that Obama should cut his vacation short to address the execution, noting that British Prime Minister David Cameron had opted to do so.
The masked man appearing in the video appeared to have a British accent, and Western officials have expressed concerns that ISIS is recruiting followers from Europe and the United States.
“The optics of being on vacation and not coming away from that vacation, I just think are bad,” Rogers said on Fox News. “That is why I think [Cameron] is going back. He is going to show he is the prime minister and he is taking this matter seriously, and he is on the job making the decisions that you need to make to keep Britain safe.”
— This story was updated at 2:42 p.m.