Last month I wrote a column questioning Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey's claim that the Obama administration would not engage in "mission creep" in Iraq, but rather in "mission match." I pointed out that without a clear definition of what the mission in Iraq is, there is nothing to "match."
Whatever the Obama administration would like us to believe, it is now clear that mission creep is well under way. In mid-June the administration announced that it would send a few hundred advisors to assess the state of the Iraqi military. With this week's decision to send 130 Marines and Special Operations forces to help plan the rescue of Yazidi refugees from Sinfar mountain, the U.S. military presence in Iraq is now nearing 1,000. And that's not counting the over 1,000 U.S. private military contractors operating in Iraq.
Yesterday's Pentagon announcement that it may not be necessary to send an armed rescue mission to get the Yazidi refugees to safety has delayed the prospect of U.S. personnel fighting ISIS forces on the ground. But the U.S. presence in Northern Iraq is likely to grow nonetheless. U.S. helicopters and MV-22 Ospreys have now been deployed to the region, as have at least 200 troops. And as the Pentagon and the CIA step up arms supplies to Kurdish forces, more advisors and technicians are likely to accompany any equipment that is delivered. In addition, as the air war continues, there could be a need for U.S. spotters on the ground to help call in air strikes.
Given all of the above, Air Force Lt. Col. Rick Francona has noted that "This fiction that Americans are not going to be in a combat role is just that."
In short, whatever happens with the refugee crisis, the current trajectory of Obama administration policy suggests that the U.S. military footprint in Iraq will continue to expand.
Perhaps this should not be surprising given the recent history of rhetoric versus reality in official predictions of the cost and duration of proposed U.S. military commitments. Micah Zenko has done an excellent summary of U.S. government pronouncements on the expected scope of U.S. military actions going back to the administration of President George H.W. Bush. In virtually every case, initial promises of limited involvement were soon cast aside. The most extreme example was Donald Rumsfeld's claim that the Bush administration's intervention in Iraq would last less than five months and cost no more than $50 billion.
More than a trillion dollars and over a decade after Rumsfeld's prediction, Iraq is in the midst of a vicious civil war that has its roots in significant part in the 2003 U.S. invasion. The organization that is now ISIS got its start in opposition to the U.S. presence in Iraq, and years of U.S. support for the regime of Nouri al-Maliki put him in a position to implement the sectarian policies that helped spark the current conflict. How likely is it that the Obama administration can make all of this right by using military force?
Thankfully, some members of Congress have woken up to the dangers of a new Iraq war and are seeking input before the administration widens U.S. involvement. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has argued that "Constitutionally, he [President Obama] should come forward with a plan and we vote for it or against it." Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has also called for Congressional authorization of any further action. And last month the House voted by a margin of 370 to 40 to ban the sustained use of combat troops in Iraq without Congressional approval.
If we want to prevent another full-scale war in Iraq, the time to speak up is now. Organizations including Win Without War, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Women's Action for New Directions, Peace Action and the Council for a Livable World have been organizing opposition to a new Iraq war. Their voices need to be amplified by as many individuals and groups as possible, as soon as possible.
William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.