In Obama’s reluctance to refer to his military operation against ISIS as a war, Uri Friedman reads an implicit embrace of the notion of perpetual war:
The distinctions between war and peace, of course, have long been murky (think America’s “police action” in Vietnam during another seemingly endless conflict: the Cold War). And few declarations of war are as clear as, say, those issued during World War II. Obama, moreover, has been careful to present his counterterrorism measures as limited to specific groups in specific places that pose specific threats to the United States—rather than, in his words, a “boundless ‘global war on terror.’” But over the course of his presidency, these efforts have expanded from Pakistan and Yemen to Somalia, and now to Iraq and Syria. “This war, like all wars, must end,” Obama declared at National Defense University.
[Last] week, the president set aside that goal. Thirteen years after his predecessor declared war on a concept—terror—Obama avoided explicitly declaring war on the very real adversary ISIS has become. All the same, U.S. soldiers are now going on the offensive again in the Middle East. What is the nature of their enemy? Is it peacetime or wartime? After Wednesday’s speech, it’s more difficult than ever to tell.
Allahpundit thinks Obama has adopted the same logic Bush used to justify invading Iraq in 2003:
He’s spent six years using, and even expanding, the counterterror tools that Bush gave him, but not until now did he take the final step and adopt Bush’s view of war itself.
Obama isn’t responding to an “immediate” threat against the U.S. in hitting ISIS; he’s engaging in preemptive war to try to neutralize what will, sooner or later (likely sooner), become a grave strategic threat. It’s like trying to oust the Taliban circa 1998 for fear of what terrorists based in Afghanistan might eventually do to America — or, if you prefer, like ousting Saddam circa 2003 for fear of what he might eventually do to America with his weapons program. Obama’s going to hit ISIS before cells nurtured in their territory hit us, and good for him. But let’s not kid ourselves what this means: If, as Conor Friedersdorf says, Obama’s now willing to preemptively attack a brutal Iraqi enemy for fear of what he might do down the line to America and its interests, he should have also supported the war in Iraq in 2003.
Former Bush advisor William Inboden unsurprisingly depicts that shift as the president waking up to reality:
It is often forgotten today, but in President Jimmy Carter’s last year in office he developed an assertive policy towards the Soviet Union including a major defense buildup, support for rebels fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, and suspending any further arms control agreements. Carter adopted these policies after the many traumas of 1979, culminating in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, made him realize that the previous three years of his Cold War policies had been naïve and weak. Six years into his presidency, perhaps President Obama has now arrived at a similar “Carter moment” and realizes that with just over two years left in his administration, he needs to make a similar shift.