The danger of mission creep in Iraq

  • 20 June 2014
President Barack Obama speaks at a White House press conference on the situation in Iraq on 19 June, 2014. Image copyright Getty Images

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Withdrawing troops and ending US involvement in the Iraq War was one of President Obama's central objectives when he stepped into the Oval Office.

After the events of this past week, however, Mr Obama's goal may be out of reach, as he announced that the United States will send 300 military advisers into Iraq.

With new boots on the ground, says Princeton University Prof Julian Zelizer, the administration must be wary of mission creep - where a small commitment spins into something much more substantial.

"Mission creep is difficult to avoid," he writes for CNN.com. "The history of military involvement shows that many operations that start small end big."

He cites what can only be considered the granddaddy of mission creep, the Vietnam War. It initially began as a small intervention, he says, when the US sent military advisers to Vietnam to train the South Vietnamese army.

Even after Congress approved President Lyndon B Johnson's request for a heightened military presence in Vietnam, he "didn't imagine how big the conflict would become," Zelizer writes.

So why does mission creep occur? Zelizer says that "very often the political pressures to escalate intensify once a president has committed forces to a region, particularly in the early years of a conflict".

Also, in our age of insurgency and guerrilla fighting, current conflicts are not as well-defined and straightforward as they used to be.

"During the war against terrorism, the United States has found itself drawn into operations where it is trying to create stable government structures that will not house terrorist networks or work on a continuous basis in countries to fight against fundamentalist forces," he says. "None of this lends itself to a quick end or to limited involvement."

If President Obama is fortunate, the 300 military advisers could be enough to assist the Iraqi government in stabilising the country.

"But history shows that mission creep can also happen quite quickly, and the president could easily find himself forced to send more troops than he expected into the quagmire of Iraq," Zelizer concludes.

Ukraine

Media captionDaniel Sandford: "There is little doubt now that there is a build up again of Russian troops on the other side of the border... what's less clear is why"

Russian troop build-up near Ukraine - Tensions are high along Ukraine's border with Russia, BBC Correspondent Daniel Sandford told BBC World News America's Katty Kay on Thursday.

"What we've been seeing today is the effect of this fighting - more and more places that we're going to now, we're starting to see damaged homes, damaged shops, damaged workplaces, and reports of civilians being killed, not rebels, not Ukrainian forces, but civilians caught in the middle," he said via satellite from Luhansk.

In addition, Sandford reported, Russian troops appear to be returning to the Ukrainian border in force. Although the reason for the increased buildup is unclear, Sandford reports that sources talking to the Russian media say it is in response to increased belligerence against Russian forces and civilians, including the attack on the Russian embassy in Kiev last weekend, fighting in eastern Ukraine and NATO exercises on the border.

Thailand

In the aftermath of Thailand's coup - Nearly a month after the Thai military declared martial law, a climate of fear has immersed the country's citizens, says Prof Pavin Chachavalpongpun of Kyoto University.

"Politicians, political activists, media personalities as well as members of civil society organisations have been summoned to appear before the authorities for no apparent reason," he writes in the Japan Times. "They all had to go through the military court without lawyers to represent them."

Although the Thai military has announced a reform programme, "the junta has no plan to return power to the Thai people anytime soon," Chachavalpongpun says. He believes the army wants to maintain power to ensure a smooth royal succession.

"The coup of 2014 has intensified a degree of hyper-royalism," he writes. "Both inside and outside Thailand, the army has striven to politicise the monarchy to legitimise its existence."

Syria

Fearing a power vacuum in Syria - Although the Obama administration has denounced the Syrian government, President Bashar Assad could be Syria's best bet for long-term stability, writes Chase Carter for the National Interest.

"If recent lessons from Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have taught us anything, it is that a peaceful transition from sectarian conflict to democracy is nearly impossible," he says. "If the Assad regime falls, there will likely be no other faction capable of militarily defeating the other, and the conflict would truly have no end in sight."

The administration should concentrate on negotiating with regional allies to take on Islamic extremist groups, stopping the transport of arms to militants and work towards a settlement with the Assad regime, Carter suggests.

"No other solution is permanent," he concludes, "and until the conflict in Syria ends, Iraq cannot be secured."

Canada

The United States is definitely not planning to invade Canada - At a Senate defence hearing this week, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey joked that the US currently has no plans to invade its northern neighbour.

Not all critics were so assured by the general's admission. "The US has invaded other countries without a decent plan (Iraq), so that is not so much of a deterrent," writes Steven Saideman, a professor at Carleton University.

On the other hand, he says the US may face challenges enduring the cold Canadian weather and taming the civilian population.

"Quelling a restive Canadian population might be difficult unless we can find some way to lose the next few US-Canada hockey matches (men's and women's) as well as soccer (women's) and perhaps relocate a few NHL franchises back to where they belong."

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Israeli and Palestinian commentators continue to respond to developments in the case of the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers.

"It is difficult for any sane mind to believe that a Palestinian faction would kidnap three settlers less than two months after the signing of the Gaza [reconciliation] agreement." - Bakr Uwaydah in the Palestinian Al-Quds.

"The Israeli government seems to be about to opt for a military confrontation in an attempt to find its three settlers. This could be a sign that Hebron will soon be stormed or fall under a siege similar to what is happening to the entire Gaza Strip." - Hisham Munawwar in the Palestinian Felesteen .

"Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas has denounced the abduction of Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah... What makes Abbas' comments in Jeddah so commendable is the fact that he made them in Arabic and he made them despite their lack of popularity among many Arabs and Palestinians... As a leader, Abbas needs to do this more often - until his people start getting the message." - Editorial in Israel's Jerusalem Post.‎

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