We Are at War with ISIL but Not at War with ISIS

by Bob Schwartz

We are at war with ISIL, the White House has just announced. But only yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry said we are not at war with ISIS.

As mentioned previously there seems to be some confusion about what to call this entity: ISIS, ISIL, or Islamic State.

And that explains it. President Obama is talking about one enemy. John Kerry is talking about another. That is, we are at war with one but not the other.

Seriously, not being able to decide on what to call an enemy is not unimportant. But it pales beside not being clear, within the administration, about whether this is war. And then trying to reconcile it by saying that whether you call it war or not is splitting semantic and legal hairs.

The White House would have been better off pleading confusion about which names the President and the Secretary of State were using.

There is something deeper in this talk about war. The explanation by the White House is that it is just like the “war” against al-Qaeda. There is no mention of the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, or other quasi-metaphorical wars. It isn’t that we haven’t had military conflicts with non-state actors. And Obama was clear in his big speech about the maybe-war: “ISIL is certainly not a state.” It’s just that whenever we do have stateless enemies, things get very confused and confusing.

If you don’t believe me, read our history. Or just watch and wait.

Advertisements