During an appearance on MSNBC, Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday we are “definitely at war with ISIS.” That’s a change from what Kerry was saying 18 months ago when he repeatedly declined to use the word to describe America’s stance toward ISIS. The statement comes right at the beginning of this clip:
What is most striking about this flat statement is how many times Kerry has tried to avoid making it in the past. Here he is in September 2014 telling CNN “that’s the wrong terminology.”
Just a few days later, Kerry was asked by Bob Schiefer of Face the Nation if we were at war with ISIS. Kerry gave a vacillating response saying, “In terms of what we did in Iraq, this is not a war…but, in terms of al Qaeda which we have used the word war with, yeah….”
A few days later Kerry looked even more confused when he tried to give the same answer to Congress saying, “It’s not a war like Iraq…but, if you care about what we call it, it is a war similar to what we did with al Qaeda.” That actually sounds better than it is. You have to watch the clip to get the full sense of how surprised Kerry seemed to be by the question.
Why did it take Kerry so long to come around? Why couldn’t he just say 18 months ago what he said today, i.e. yes of course we’re at war with ISIS? The most plausible answer is that Kerry was hesitant to use the word because it was considered bad politics at the time, hence his repeated efforts to distance the war with ISIS from the war in Iraq.
You have to also wonder if there was also some generalized concern within the Obama administration about giving ISIS “what it wants.” Remember, just a few months ago, when French President Francois Hollande called for war against ISIS, he was scolded by the LA Times for giving the group exactly what it wants. The Huffington Post also warned that politicians on both sides of the Atlantic were giving ISIS what it wanted by engaging in “clash of civilizations” rhetoric.
There is really no more basic clash of civilizations than war. Has Kerry finally given ISIS what it wants? Will he backtrack on this in a few hours or days? Or is Kerry somehow immune from criticism for the category of error known as giving ISIS what it wants?