JONATHAN FRANKLIN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
As a journalist who never enters war zones I have nothing but pride and support for my colleagues who do. It is easy to romanticize the front lines of war, brave souls scurrying for cover in search of that emblematic photo or tracking down the lurking warlord. The reality, as so well noted in a New York Times piece on freelance war correspondents, is that much of modern war coverage is done at poverty levels by brave men and woman (often young) without backup. They pay their own flight, share hotel rooms, skip meals and pray that luck and timing all line up to provide that one scoop which can catapult them into not only temporary fame but perhaps a steady income. Foley was fortunate to work for GlobalPost, a more than reputable organization that spent considerable money trying to save him. Nonetheless, his death is a reminder of the brutal dangers that young reporters face as they seek to bring frontline truths.
When remembering American photojournalist James Foley we would do well to honor his brave journeys not by hyping the dangers of ISIS to the US homeland or crying for increased military budgets but to continue his search for the savage reality that is war. Foley, according to his family, friends and colleagues was a man much interested in justice. "We have never been prouder of our son Jim, he gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people," Diane Foley his mother said.
What is the true value of journalists like Foley? What do they contribute? They bring a snapshot of reality. A flash moment or two of the sickening day to day conflict where it is children and other non-combatants who make up the bulk of the victims. Reporters on the ground who are green and ambitious often do make it to the front rows, either by sure courage or innovative routes. They are not the ones filing from the hotel room or interviewing taxi drivers (always a sure sign of lazy reporting.) If we want to honor the work of photojournalists like Foley we would do well to avoid the grandstanding and blame game ("bomb them back to the Stone Age" rhetoric) and take a trip down to the street level reality in which they live. In Syria, Gaza, Iraq, Libya and the other powder kegs that make up the current chaos of the Mideast, who is dying? Innocents.
Pouring millions and billions more into the conflict is unlikely to bring anything but smiles to weapons dealers, traffickers, extreme militants and corrupt officials. That ISIS is currently armed to the teeth with weapons supplied by the US (via the looting of Iraqi army stockpiles) is proof enough that heavy weaponry has a tendency to migrate to the highest bidder or most ruthless grabbers. ISIS is atop the pile in both regards at the moment.
The US military budget is now roughly US $2 billion a day. That is 2,000 million dollars, a sum so staggering that not only can it never be audited by anyone (true) but that dwarfs the military spending of the entire rest of the world. China and Russia military spending combined is a fraction of the US outlay.
The beheading of James Foley has led to an outcry of calls for increased military spending, more bombing, perhaps even ground troops in levels beyond the always nebulous "several hundred special advisers" who are sent to such crisis. If US $2 billion a day hasn't worked, it is unlikely that tossing billions more will do anything but provide more high powered fuel to the inferno.
Radicals intent on provoking the United States know that we have a short fuse when our own are attacked, killed or kidnapped. And despite our love of fellow countryman and our ability to spend small fortunes to send Special Forces to bring them home, we should not fall in the trap that ISIS has set.
By killing Foley slowly and with gruesome attention to detail, ISIS seeks to provoke a violent US reaction that will ensnare the US yet again in a fight that may threaten our access to certain oil fields but in an era of abundant shale oil and natural gas discoveries, I would argue, ever less important to our essential interests. If we as a nation are truly worried about preventing an attacks inside our borders or versus our interest abroad we would do well to avoid the provocation by the insane bullies that are ISIS.
Instead, a sane reaction would be to look beyond short term bombing targets and reorder our reaction to Mideast violence with an eye on education and reason. An eye for an eye is just what the ISIS extremists understand. It is an equation that sits well with their mad reasoning.
Educating females, providing Muslim students with scholarships, isolating Saudi Arabian support for extremists – those are the kind of intelligent, long-term solutions that would confound these brutes.
The continental US may indeed face threats from ISIS and others but we have our continual US $2 billion a day to defend essential interests. If we are going to honor the efforts of on the ground photojournalists like James Foley we could do far worse than avoid the cries for more war and give more power to the far more difficult path of building peace. To send more arms, to attack with jets and bombs is a well worn path that has thus far provoked the deaths and maiming of tens of thousands of innocent bystanders. And as we can all note, the world doesn't feel a bit safer.