Monday, August 25, 2014

mission creep vs mission leap in Iraq

The stars seem to be aligning in favor of some expansion of the U.S. military role in Iraq. I'm open to that, but I have some concerns, questions, and suggestions.

The ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State jihadists are truly frightening and at least a dangerous regional threat. Some of the concerns which limited U.S. willingness to act are being mitigated, such as the emerging new government in Baghdad and the intelligence and situational awareness being provided by U.S. personnel already deployed. And now even Syria's Assad, who seems to have concentrated on fighting the more moderate Syrian opposition, now can't avoid fighting ISISetc directly.

As Micah Zenko explains quite well, there is a real risk of mission creep in the current situation, where we respond incrementally to each new problem without an overall strategy and agreed endstate.

The situation is not helped by congressional figures and policy pundits who demand "leadership" and forceful actions without themselves answering the strategic questions.

To me, the right course is for the President and his advisors to craft a reasonable strategy and then ask for congressional support. The existing authorization for force in Iraq is outmoded, focused only on Saddam Hussein's misdeeds, and the 2001 law allowing action against those connected with the 9/11 attacks is being stretched to the breaking point by the administration. A new law could set the precise military mission and any constraints.  It should, for example, take a stand either for or against "boots on the ground" and set any numerical or time limits that would force both branches of government to reexamine their strategy depending on future outcomes. That wouldn't make the many difficult choices easier, but would allow us to act with our eyes open and fixed on an agreed goal.

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