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White House press secretary Josh Earnest answers a question on the administration strategy to combat the Islamic State group during the daily press briefing, Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014, at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Is US Waging War? Top Obama Admin Officials Give Conflicting Answers

"This is what happens when you don't have congressional debate," says Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy. "There is no accountability for administration statements... There is no truth."

Sarah Lazare

Obama administration officials late this week made conflicting statements about the critical question of whether the United States is at war with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIL).

The White House and Pentagon on Friday used the word "war" to describe U.S. military actions in Iraq and Syria.

"In the same way that we are at war with Al Qaeda and its affiliates around the globe, we are at war with ISIL," declared White House press secretary Josh Earnest in briefing to reporters on Friday.

"What I said was this is not the Iraq war of 2002. But make no mistake, we know we are at war with ISIL in the same way we're at war and continue to be at war with Al Qaeda and its affiliates," said Real Admiral John Kirby in a Department of Defense press briefing, also on Friday.

But in numerous media interviews on Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized that the U.S. is not at war with ISIL.

"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," Kerry told CBS Reporter Margaret Brennan in an interview from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia where Kerry is currently traveling in a bid to build a coalition against ISIL.

In another Thursday interview with CNN's Elise Labott, Kerry stated that the administration's military actions include "many different things that one doesn't think of normally in context of war." He continued, "What we are doing is engaging in a very significant counterterrorism operation. It's going to go on for some period of time. 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 counterterrorism operation that will have many different moving parts."

Robert Naiman, policy director for Just Foreign Policy, told Common Dreams, "This is what happens when you don't have congressional debate. There is no accountability for administration statements. This gives them more power to say all kinds of contradictory things to all kinds of different audiences as it suits their purposes. There is no truth."

While only Congress has the authority to formally declare war, on Thursday Earnest stated that Obama is invoking authority from the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.

However, Obama has previously voiced his opposition to the 2001 legislation and advocated for its repeal. In a speech issued May of last year, the president declared:

The AUMF is now nearly 12 years old. The Afghan war is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states.

In the past month the U.S. has launched 158 air strikes on alleged ISIL targets in Iraq, according to U.S. Central Command, although details of the bombings, including civilian and combatant casualties, are not being publicly disclosed. Furthermore, at least 1,600 U.S. troops are currently deployed in Iraq. In a speech on Wednesday, Obama vowed to "degrade and ultimately destroy" ISIL, in step with the president's escalating rhetoric since he declared last month there is "no strategy" for defeating the armed group.

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