Bill Maher (video below), as only he can, asks an intriguing question:
When it comes to baited into going to war, America has to try a little harder to not being so fucking easy! Excuse me. Just a few months ago polls showed Americans were sick of war. They'd had enough. They were anxious to stay out of the Middle East. Then they saw two beheadings and over night and they were like, 'Oh, war, we can't stay mad at you.' You know, conservatives love to vilify anyone who doesn't want to immediately throw down as appeasers. But when you're dealing with terrorists whose aim is to bait us into overreaction and you oblige them, aren't you the appeaser?
Less profanely, the Guardian argues
The killing of Mr Haines was not an act of revenge. It was an act of provocation. Like the two murders of the American journalists, it was designed to frighten and to inflame. It seems nothing would please Isis more than for these killings to provoke an intemperate and thoughtless violent reaction from those at whom they are aimed. Such a reaction might, in Isis’s crude and perverse logic, give them public legitimacy as victims rather than as killers. Such things have happened all too often in history. This in itself is a good enough reason for western leaders to have cool reactions. But there is also a case for saying that the hostage slaughter video campaigns are themselves a sign of Isis weakness, not Isis strength. The jihadis’ spectacular military advance early this year in northern Iraq has been stalled in recent weeks by Kurdish fighters and US air strikes. These reverses may have spurred anger and exasperation in the jihadi ranks. That could explain why the ghoulish Isis propaganda blitz apparently aimed at provoking an overreaction from the US and the UK is taking place now rather than at any other time.
It's not only the propaganda blitz which is "ghoulish." Saddam Hussein, pretending he had weapons of mass destruction so as not to appear weak to Iran, seemingly welcomed the U.S. invasion. Similarly, ISIS now may be flaunting its viciousness to encourage a reputation as the premier terrorist group in the Mideast. Hussein was overthrown and killed and the war appeared won by the "good guys.". Several thousand American deaths later, Iraq is less stable, and U.S. citizens are increasingly fearful of a terrorist attack here.
David Corn notes "There are hundreds of anti-Assad militias, each side with its own agenda. Some moderate bands have no interest in taking on ISIS. Some fighters shift allegiances between secular outfits and Islamic extremist groups. For that and other reasons, the "bad guys" (as we accurately but simplistically- call them) may lose and we may not win. War is no longer a zero-sum game.