Shoulder to Shoulder, Watching ISIS Murder Hostages

When ISIS beheaded British hostage David Haines, last September, the White House released a statement by President Obama that the U.S. "strongly condemns the barbaric murder," and -- with reference to Britain -- "stands shoulder to shoulder tonight with our close friend and ally in grief and resolve."

When ISIS beheaded British hostage Alan Henning last October, the White House released a statement by President Obama that the U.S. "strongly condemns the brutal murder" and --with reference to American hostages Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff beheaded by ISIS -- "standing together with our UK friends and allies, we will work to bring the perpetrators of Alan's murder -- as well as the murders of Jim Foley, Steven Sotloff and David Haines -- to justice."

When ISIS beheaded Japanese hostage Haruna Yukawa on January 24, the White House released a statement by President Obama that the U.S. "strongly condemns the brutal murder of Japanese citizen Haruna Yukawa, and "we stand shoulder to shoulder with our ally Japan and applaud its commitment to peace and development in a region far from its shores."

When ISIS (a.k.a. ISIL) released a video on January 31 that appears to show the beheading of Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, the White House released a statement by President Obama that the U.S. "condemns the heinous murder of Japanese citizen and journalist Kenji Goto," and reiterated that the U.S., while "standing together with a broad coalition of allies and partners... will continue taking decisive action to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL." Secretary of State John Kerry provided the rest of what is by now the formulaic response: "We share the sorrow and continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our ally Japan in confronting terrorism."

What are we to make of these statements?

There is much to be said for standing together -- including shoulder to shoulder -- with a broad coalition of allies and partners to stop terrorism and destroy the butchers of ISIS. But the message that comes through so far is that three of the world's great powers -- the U.S., Britain and Japan -- along with other allies and partners, have been standing shoulder to shoulder for months, condemning and resolving and sharing grief and resolve. Nothing in all that standing together has been potent enough to stop these barbaric, brutal, heinous beheadings of American and British and Japanese citizens. That is a dangerous message of impotence for these great powers to be sending, shoulder to shoulder, to the rest of the world.