Monday, March 21, 2016

(More) Boots on the Ground in Iraq

Today in bad news, the US has announced its intentions to send more troops to Iraq. The exact number hasn't been specified yet, but the unit that will be deployed has approximately 2,200 members in it. Thus, this could be viewed as the maximum that is going to be sent to Iraq in this latest round of escalation. This amount is on top of the roughly 3,600 existing in the country currently.

Interestingly, the US seems to be abandoning the notion that these latest troops will be merely advisers to Iraqi forces. US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter first hinted that the US troops will need to be involved directly in combat in January, and similar sentiments were expressed by the leading US general in Iraq in February.

Admittedly, it's unclear just how important the distinction is between advising on combat operations and directly engaging in them. This latest decision comes on the heels of another US servicemember being killed over the weekend in fighting with ISIS, in what officials attempted to downplay as a "lucky strike". Another soldier was killed back in October while assisting in a prisoner rescue operation in Iraq.

What is perhaps most interesting about this latest development is what's not being said. There's no discussion of any end goal to speak of, and even though it seems to be a complete repudiation of President Obama's oft-stated promise of "no boots on the ground," it's unlikely that any meaningful political opposition will rise against it. Democrats don't want to call attention to the fact that their leader is restarting another war that he supposedly ended, and most Republicans have no interest in stopping such a war, no matter how futile or blatantly unconstitutional it may be.

On that last note, it's worth noting that the ostensible legal justification for this war remains the Authorization for the Use of Military Force that was passed in the wake of 9/11 to go after the perpetrators of that attack (Al Qaeda) and their associates. Given that ISIS didn't even exist at that time and is in open conflict with Al Qaeda, it's hard to see how they fit this description. It gets even more absurd when one realizes that many of the people the US is fighting today in that country were probably adolescents when the authority to attack them was granted.

Lack of legal authority notwithstanding, the war seems likely to continue escalating anyways. As this latest batch of troops is being sent in response to the rocket strike that killed a soldier, so having more soldiers in the country could provide the excuse for future troop increases. More soldiers means a greater probability they will get killed. And when they do, generals will complain that they have a lack of resources for the task at hand, even though none of us can define what succeeding at that task would really entail. And all the while, the heightened presence of US ground troops will be a boon to ISIS recruiting efforts in Iraq and their efforts to recruit sympathizers around the world. Expect to see this situation get much worse before it gets better.

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