- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The White House, in the face of an uncertain American public on the costs of stamping out the Islamic State — and in the face of an ever-nearing election — has been changing its tune on what to call the airstrike campaign against the terrorist group.

Recent polling indicates Americans favor airstrikes, and an international coalition to battle the Islamic State, but not so much a ground battle using U.S. troops in the Middle East. So the administration has been stumping over terminology, The Washington Post reported. What to call the conflict without offending Capitol Hill politicos, the international and allied community, and the all-important voting block in the United States?

On Sept. 10, President Obama announced the authorization of U.S. military action by explaining the need to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the group, The Post reported. He did not, however, go into detail about the request from Iraq’s government to send in the airstrikes over Syria.

Recently, however, the White House is using that very request to justify continued U.S. intervention, the newspaper said. For instance, on Sept. 23, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power spoke of an Iraqi letter to the U.S. secretary general about a plea for the United States to “lead international efforts to strike ISIL sites and military strongholds in Syria in order to end the continuing attacks on Iraq,” The Post reported. She referenced the U.S. Charter’s allowance for military force for self-defense — but didn’t talk about the need to destroy the Islamic State.

The next day, CNN asked Secretary of State John Kerry if the United States was waging war with the Islamic State.

“[That’s the] wrong terminology,” he said to CNN. “What we are doing is engaging in a very significant counterterrorism operation.”

Three days after that, Mr. Kerry said on “Face the Nation” on CBS that spending too much time on terminology is “a waste of time … [but] if people need a place to land … yes, we’re at war with ISIL.”

Fast-forward a bit to Sept. 28, and Mr. Obama on “60 Minutes” on CBS seemed to disagree.

“This is not America against ISIL,” the president said then, The Post reported. “This is America leading the international community to assist a country with whom we have a security partnership with, to make sure that they are able to take care of their business.”

And then just recently, reporters asked Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby if the United States was at war with the Islamic State and his response, bluntly: “Yes, yes,” The Washington Post reported.

The difference between an armed conflict versus a war carries weight on the public relations front, in terms of laying out and managing expectations for the numbers of civilians who might be unintentionally killed. International law dictates that governments can’t target civilians and that actions that put civilians in the line of fire should be in proportion to the importance of the stated military goal, The Post reported.

Mr. Obama delivered remarks last year in which he said there would be a “near certainty” of no civilian kills with his counter-terrorism pursuits, the newspaper said.

“[But] that was then and this is now,” said John Bellinger III, State Department legal counsel in the George W. Bush administration, speaking of the expansion of the Islamic State, and the accompanying expansion of the U.S. response, The Post reported. “When they were coming up with all those rules a year ago, they thought the terrorist threat was heading in one direction. Now it seems to be a completely different direction.”

Congress, too, has a say in how the White House can go after the Islamic State. Undercutting the White House’s other terminology considerations is the War Powers Resolution and its dictate that the president must notify Congress before sending U.S. military members into “hostilities,” and then must withdraw them after 60 days, unless Congress gives approval for further conflict.

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