White House: We are not at war
posted at 3:21 pm on September 11, 2014 by Noah Rothman
In a truly shameful display, the administration has spent the day after President Barack Obama’s address to the nation outlining his proposed response to the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria by downplaying his address to the nation.
America is not going to “war,” per say, according to Secretary of State John Kerry and White House Press Sec. Josh Earnest. No, what they envision is merely another counter-terror operation. Just like the supposedly model operations ongoing in nearly imploding Yemen, or in Somalia, which has become synonymous for ‘basket case failed state.’
While traveling in the Middle East to shore up support for what everyone sure thought was going to be a war to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, America’s chief diplomat took the opportunity to clarify the president’s thinking.
“What we are doing is engaging in a very significant counter-terrorism operation,” Kerry said. “If somebody wants to think about it as being a war with ISIL they can do so, but the fact is it’s a major counter-terrorism operation.”
“I don’t think people need to get into a war fever on this,” the secretary of state added.
On its face, it seems like the administration is sending mixed signals. The president made a rather clear case for a long campaign aimed at rolling back the nascent Islamic State in Iraq and eventually confronting them in their Syrian stronghold. Sources have suggested that this is a mission which will likely outlast the Obama presidency. So why pull punches today?
Josh Earnest made the administration’s thinking clear during his press briefing on Thursday in which he went to tortured lengths to insist that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and al-Qaeda were synonymous. Why? Well, claiming these two groups are the same would mean that the administration does not have to approach Congress for a new resolution authorizing use military force.
Instead, the White House can point to the 2001 authorization targeting al-Qaeda, even though the White House had previously argued that the resolution was dated and should be repealed.
Kerry, too, asserted that ISIS “is and has been al-Qaeda.”
“By trying to change its name, it doesn’t change who it is, what it does,” he added.
Just don’t tell them that. “In a message posted on jihadi websites the al-Qaeda general command stated that its former affiliate ‘is not a branch of the al-Qaeda group [and al-Qaeda] does not have an organizational relationship with it and is not the group responsible for their actions,’” Time Magazine reported in February.
The White House’s insistence that the present campaign is merely a continuation of George W. Bush’s War on Terror is unlikely to quiet the increasingly loud voices in Congress demanding a vote on a new authorization.
Okay, well, even if we’re playing legal games with the word “war” and are trying to avoid the politics of getting the people’s representatives to sanction military action abroad, at least there is a plan for victory, right?
“What does victory look like here?” Earnest was asked on Thursday. “What does destroy mean?”
“I didn’t bring my Webster’s dictionary,” Earnest replied.
The press secretary later clarified that the goal is to ensure that ISIS has no haven to plan and execute attacks on America and to “mitigate” the risk to the homeland from what is really just another terrorist group.
In related news, the Democratic coalition and Obama’s dovish base were livid over his speech last night and deeply disturbed by the president’s decision to commit America to a new war in the Middle East, threats to national security notwithstanding.
In America in 2014, a former constitutional law professor is pretty sure he can launch a three-year-long military campaign against a proto-state occupying territory in two sovereign countries without the approval of Congress. The brazen power grab here which is distressing, but the utter lack of regard for the precedents this administration is setting might be even more unnerving.