The White House spent much of last week trying to figure out if the word “war” was the right one to describe its military actions against the Islamic State.
US Secretary of State John Kerry was at first reluctant:
“We’re engaged in a major counterterrorism operation,” he told CBS News on Sept. 11. “I think war is the wrong terminology and analogy but the fact is that we are engaged in a very significant global effort to curb terrorist activity… I don’t think people need to get into war fever on this. I think they have to view it as a heightened level of counter terrorist activity.”
Kerry said similarly hedgy things during interviews on CNN and ABC.
By the next day, the Obama administration appeared more comfortable with the word war, yet hardly offered any more clarity. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters, “The United States is at war with ISIL in the same way we are at war with Al Qaeda and its affiliates.”
The problem is that our traditional definition of “war” is outdated, and so is our imagination of what war means.