So how can Kerry say it’s not? Because the ships launching the Tomahawks will be far from Syria, and thus apparently impervious to Syrian retaliation. War, in other words, is what happens when other nations kill Americans, not the other way around.
It’s not surprising that Kerry sees it that way. If America only goes to war when it puts large numbers of Americans in harm’s way—as in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq—then “war” is something we do relatively infrequently, and with great solemnity. If, on the other hand, America goes to war whenever we put non-Americans in harm’s way, war is something we do routinely and with little public debate. As we speak, after all, American drones hover over Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, waiting to strike suspected terrorists.
In a sense, therefore, Kerry’s statement to Rand Paul is correct: President Obama is “not asking you to go to war.” He doesn’t have to ask because in America today, we take war for granted, so long as Americans aren’t the ones getting killed. And we’re surprised, and dismayed, when people in other countries don’t take it for granted too.