Kayla Mueller: Peace Activist, War Mascot?

In life, Kayla Mueller was a humanitarian and a peacemaker. In death, she's becoming a rallying point for ramped-up military action in the Middle East.

One day after U.S. officials confirmed reports that the 26-year-old Prescott native had been killed in Syria, a captive of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, President Barack Obama asked Congress on Wednesday for renewed authorization to use military force against the terrorist group. In a letter introducing the proposal, Obama mentioned her by name along with three other Americans abducted by ISIL in the Middle East.

ISIL beheaded aid worker Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig and journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff last year. A week ago, the terrorist group announced that Mueller, an aid worker with the Turkish nonprofit Support to Life, died in a Jordanian airstrike. ISIL had been holding her hostage since August 2013, when militants snatched her outside a Spanish Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo.

Plans to intensify strikes in Syria and Iraq have been in the works for months, but Mueller's death "adds urgency" to the debate, Congressman Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona) told New Times.

"Kayla Mueller was a great Arizonan," he said. "Her loss is definitely going to be on our minds as we sift through this decision."

See also: -Arizona ISIS Hostage Confirmed Dead

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz, told the Arizona Republic Wednesday that he thought Mueller's death might make it "easier" for those who were opposed to authorizing military action to get on board. A number of Congressmen have called for revenge.

"Only the most malicious of enemies would seek to capture and threaten such a person for their own gains," said Congressman Matt Salmon (R-Arizona), urging the president to use "every tool at our disposal" to "cripple the ability of these terrorist thugs to harm Americans around the world."

Congressman Paul Gosar previously has noted that the American people have a "decreased desire for conflict as a result of lengthy and costly operations in the Middle East," but, Wednesday, he called on them to "bring justice to Kayla's captors." He used Mueller, who has been praised for her courage during the 18 months she spent in captivity, as an example of how the American people should approach a war with ISIS. "We must put an end to this monstrous violence based on intolerance," he said. "We must endeavor to remain brave and strong in the face of those who wish to terrify, just as Kayla did."

Mueller, however, was vehemently opposed to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Carol Thompson, her close friend and former professor at Northern Arizona University, said to New Times. She spent her free time rallying against genocide and marched in demonstrations protesting the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. Mueller and Thompson worked together to build a veteran's center at Northern Arizona University.

"She didn't approve of the Iraq war, but she wanted to help those who had been impacted by it," said Thompson, who was traveling from Zimbabwe to Prescott to be with Mueller's family yesterday.

When asked how she thought Mueller might feel about becoming a catalyst for more aggressive military action in the Middle East, she said, "Your questions are center, to the core. And you can answer them...You know what Kayla would think of escalated bombing, more money for wars."

At a memorial in Prescott, friends said Mueller often borrowed the words of American author Robert Fulghum to express her feelings. "Peace is not something you wish for," she would say. "It's something you make, something you do, something you are and something you give away."

In the proposed legislation Obama sent to Capitol Hill Obama takes a somewhat more restrained stance than his predecessors. In an attempt to prevent the prolonged, large-scale-ground combat that marked preceding wars in the Middle East, Obama suggested largely conducting the assault from the air, with only limited ground missions. The authorization for military action would expire in three years.

It's apparent Obama is attempting to apply lessons learned during President George W. Bush's War of Terror by attempting to keep a "light footprint", said Daniel Serwer, a professor of conflict management at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Study and a scholar at the Middle East Institute. But, he said, he worries that the proposal doesn't adequately address another failing of the Iraq war: the need for nation building. "If you win this war, who is going to govern the spaces the Islamic State now runs?" Serwer said. "In Iraq, you can hope it will be the Iraqi government in some form, but in Syria the administration has put forward no solution. If we win and leave Syria ungoverned, we're just going to create a power vacuum for another group like the Islamic State to fill."

Congressman Salmon criticized the proposal for not leveraging the "full weight and force of the U.S. Military.

"I support empowering our competent commanders and leaders of the U.S. military to make the decisions they need to obliterate this enemy," he said. "Tying our commanders hands to suit the president's whims is no way to win an engagement with an aggressive enemy that has already brutally killed innocent Americans

What would Mueller think of the proposal?

On the Senate floor Tuesday, Senator John McCain, R-Ariz, read an excerpt from a letter she had sent home.

"When Syrians hear I'm an American, they ask, 'Where is the world?'," Mueller wrote. "All I can do is cry with them, because I don't know."

Got a tip? Send it to: Elizabeth Stuart.

Follow Valley Fever on Twitter at @ValleyFeverPHX. Follow Elizabeth Stuart on Twitter at @elizMstuart.

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