Are We at 'War' With ISIS? Yes, Says White House; No, Says Kerry Spokesman Josh Earnest seems to trump secretary of state today By John Johnson, Newser Staff Posted Sep 12, 2014 5:36 PM CDT 31 comments Comments White House press secretary Josh Earnest. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Newser) – The White House seems a little off on its talking points about the military strategy against ISIS. President Obama consistently says the goal is to "degrade" and "destroy" the group. But does that mean we're at war? White House spokesman Josh Earnest thinks so, reports the Hill: “In the same way that we are at war with al-Qaeda and its affiliates around the globe, we are at war with ISIL,” he says, using an alternate acronym. As does Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby: It's "not the Iraq war," but "make no mistake, we know we are at war with ISIL." But Secretary of State John Kerry? He seemed to be going out of his way to avoid that three-letter word yesterday: "We're engaged in a major counterterrorism operation," he told CBS News. "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." He added, "I don't think people need to get into war fever on this. I think they have to view it as a heightened level of counter terrorist activity." And to CNN: "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." As the Wire sums up, Earnest seems to have deliberately trumped Kerry on semantics by "repeatedly invoking the W-word" in his briefing, though, crucially, he framed it as a continuation of the war that President Bush waged against al-Qaeda. Congress gave Bush the OK for military force back then, and the White House argues that the approval of 13 years ago still applies to the fight against ISIS.