US Secretary of State John Kerry and White House chief of staff Denis McDonough both said Sunday the US is “at war” with the extremist group calling itself the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) in the same way it is “at war” with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
“In terms of al-Qaeda, which we have used the word ‘war’ with, yeah…we are at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates. And in the same context if you want to use it, yes, we are at war with ISIL in that sense,” Kerry said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Kerry’s statement completed a transformation and an escalation in rhetoric from just three days ago, when he rejected the term “war.” Kerry refused to call the campaign a “war” in an interview with CNN Thursday, going along with other administration officials in calling it a “significant counterterrorism operation.
Kerry said the operation would require “many different things that one doesn’t think of normally in context of war.”
“What we are doing is engaging in a very significant counterterrorism operation,” Kerry told CNN’s Elise Labott in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. “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.”
By Friday, after the White House had received mounting criticism for refusing to use the term “war,” both the Pentagon and White House press secretary Josh Earnest shifted their language.
Only Congress can declare war under the U.S. Constitution. The Obama administration has in the past few days cited the 2001 congressional authorization of military force that came in the wake of the post-Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as justification, a position with which some legal scholars have disagreed.
Obama told congressional leaders earlier this week that he has the authority he needs to carry out his current mission against ISIS. But his administration’s shift will likely increase calls from those in Congress who want a vote on congressional authorization of the mission.
“It’s Congress that declares war. It’s Congress that initiates war,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) said on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday.
For his part, Kerry said he thought the focus on the term “war” was a waste of time.
“But I think it’s waste of time to focus on that,” Kerry said on CBS Sunday. “Frankly, lets consider what we have to do to degrade and defeat ISIL.”
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