Is a Clint Eastwood movie the right inspiration for the fight against the brutal jihadist group Islamic State?
That question arises today because Jordan’s King Abdullah made a reference to Eastwood’s tough, violent Western, “Unforgiven,” in a meeting with members of the United States House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, according to a report in the Washington Examiner.
Participants said that during the meeting the King Abdullah was obviously incensed by the fate of Jordanian pilot Lt. Moaz al-Kassasbeh, who was captured by the Islamic State in Syria after his plane crashed in December. On Tuesday, the IS released a video that purported to show Lieutenant Kassasbeh being burned to death in a metal cage.
The Jordanian monarch “said there is going to be retribution like [IS] hasn’t seen,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter (R) of California, according to the Examiner’s well-connected Byron York.
In particular, King Abdullah apparently said he would deal with IS in the way Eastwood’s character acts in “Unforgiven.” At one point Eastwood's character says, “Any man I see out there, I’m gonna kill him. Any [expletive] takes a shot at me, I’m not only going to kill him, I’m going to kill his wife and all his friends and burn his damn house down.”
King Abdullah told US lawmakers that Jordan would intensify its participation in a US-led air campaign against IS.
“The only problem we’re going to have is running out of fuel and bullets,” he said, according to the Examiner.
Twelve hours after the release of the gruesome IS video, Jordan executed two Iraqi prisoners who had been named as possible pieces in a prisoner swap for Kassasbeh.
Sajida al-Rishawi had been sentenced to death in 2005 for her role in a triple hotel bombing in Amman. Ziad al-Karbouly was sentenced to death in 2008 for plotting attacks on Jordanians in Iraq.
Jordan reportedly may execute four additional IS-linked prisoners in retaliation for its pilot’s death. In the US, this rough Eastwoodian justice drew cheers from many on social media and in the right-leaning blogosphere.
“Kill one of ours, we kill six of yours? Yep. That works for me,” writes Caleb Howe at the conservative Red State site.
That said, the line between tough response and overreaction is a thin one. “Unforgiven” is a dark movie in which the morality of the Eastwood character’s violent actions is not clear.
The US is unlikely openly to support tit-for-tat killings of prisoners in the struggle against IS, even condemned ones. To do so would be to risk charges that anger is undermining some of the basic values of the nation.
More practically, the US administration does not want Jordan to go too far in its revenge. It is a small country with a large population of refugees sandwiched between Israel, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. That’s a tough neighborhood in which to live, and its leaders have sometimes struggled to maintain stability.
IS would be only too happy to draw Jordan into a ground conflict in Syria, said right-leaning columnist Charles Krauthammer on Tuesday. That might ultimately force the US to deploy boots on the ground.
“Jordan being drawn into a direct war with [IS] is not a good thing for us,” said Mr. Krauthammer on Fox News. “Jordan will not defeat [IS] on its own.”