Are We at 'War' With ISIS? White House Insists We're Not

PHOTO: President Barack Obama addresses the nation from the Cross Hall in the White HouseSaul Loeb/AP Photo
President Barack Obama addresses the nation from the Cross Hall in the White House in Washington, Sept. 10, 2014.

When does a sustained, open-ended American military campaign become a "war"?

It's a weighty question drawing much debate online and in the political world.

The White House claims the anti-ISIS strategy President Obama announced Thursday night does not amount to a war.

  • President Obama never used the word last night, instead calling his plan a "counter-terrorism campaign."
  • Secretary of State John Kerry told ABC News' Alex Marquardt on Thursday that the U.S. is not "at war" with ISIS. "No," Kerry told Marquardt. "We're engaged in a counter-terrorism operation of a significant order. And counter-terrorism operations can take a long time, they go on. I think 'war' is the wrong reference term with respect to that."
  • National Security Adviser Susan Rice told CNN: "There will not be boots on the ground, which is what Americans think of when they think of a war."
But there are boots on the ground, even if not combat ones -- so far more than 1,600. The expanding military campaign will be violent and dangerous.

Republicans have been pointing out the costs and risks involved with the operation, accusing the president of distorting what it in fact is: a new war -- a new dimension to the "war on terror" initiated after 9/11.

  • Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge: "This is not a counter-terrorism operation! It's a big deal," he told CNN. "It's disingenuous to say that the men and women we're going to send to Iraq are not in harm's way. They're not wearing sneakers. ... No commander-in-chief wants to send men and women into harm's way, but don't pretend those military personnel, these brave men and women are not going to be caught up in the middle of a violent battle with a violent, medieval barbaric organization. It's fiction. They're in harm's way. There are boots on the ground."
  • Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.: "Tell the American people the truth, Mr. President. These young men and women are going there, and they're going to be in harm's way, and they're going to be exposed to combat."