Left frets over Iraq mission creep

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The president's expansion of the U.S. military mission in Iraq is conjuring up two dirty little words for anti-war Democrats: Mission creep. 

Just two months ago, when Obama announced he was going to send up to 300 American troops to Iraq, he emphasized that they would only have an advisory, non-combat role.

On Friday, however, U.S. fighters bombed terrorist targets in northern Iraq. Hours before, the president had announced he was authorizing such strikes as well as the airdropping of aid to Iraqi refugees stranded on a mountaintop.

The White House has stressed that the two missions — the airstrikes and the airdrops — are narrow and discrete. But neither has an end-date, prompting concern from some Democrats and liberal anti-war groups. 

“I oppose open-ended military commitments, which the president’s actions in Iraq could become,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

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“I am deeply concerned that these actions could lead to prolonged direct military involvement, which I would strongly oppose,” he added. 

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), another senior Democrat on the committee, said he supported the president’s actions, but “as one of only 23 senators who opposed the war in Iraq, I do not believe this should be an extended campaign involving US ground troops.”

Reed is running for reelection this fall.

And Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the House’s most strident anti-war voice, said, “I support strictly humanitarian efforts to prevent genocide in Iraq.” 

But, she added, “while the president has existing authority to protect American diplomatic personnel, I remain concerned about U.S. mission creep in Iraq and escalation into a larger conflict, which I oppose.” 

Although administration officials are insisting that the missions would be limited, and there would be no boots on the ground, one senior administration official acknowledged Friday that strikes could extend outside of northern Iraq.

“We have said if there is a counterterrorism target that involves potential plotting against the United States, we always reserve the right to act,” said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said on MSNBC on Friday. 

“That would be separate, though, from the two missions that the president authorized yesterday,” he said. 

Already the number of U.S. troops deployed to Iraq has more than doubled since June 16, when the president first ordered troops to go back there. Currently, there are more than 700 U.S. troops deployed to Iraq, not including those who are involved in the current air missions. 

Some Democratic defense hawks offered approval for the president’s move, however, even calling for further action. 

Senate Intellgence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) came out strongly in favor of the U.S. forcing ISIS out of Iraq, not just away from the Kurdish capital of Erbil in the north of the country.  

“It takes an army to defeat an army, and I believe that we either confront ISIL now or we will be forced to deal with an even stronger enemy in the future,” she said, using an alternative acronym for the group.

But others on the left are warning of unintended consequences of expanding the mission. 

Liberal group MoveOn.org, which rallied liberal opposition to the 2003 Iraq War under President George W. Bush, called Obama’s use of force in Iraq “deeply disturbing.” 

 “The risks of mission creep, unintended consequences, and incremental escalation are real and dangerous,” said the group's executive director Anna Galland. 

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) on Friday said the Congress should formally authorize the airstrikes in Iraq when lawmakers return from recess in September. 

The House just two weeks ago passed a resolution that he and Lee co-sponsored calling on the president to seek congressional approval for any sustained U.S. troop presence. The vote was 370-40.

"While choosing sides may be something Congress decides that it wants to support, it goes beyond the humanitarian mission of providing relief to civilians stranded on a mountain in imminent danger of dying of hunger and thirst," McGovern said.

"When we bomb ISIS, which is a horrible group, we have to realize that we are heading down the path of choosing sides in an ancient religious and sectarian war inside Iraq," he said.