Is the US at risk of 'mission creep' in Iraq?

​The U.S. is sending up to 300 military advisers to help in Iraq. And while that’s a relatively modest number of special forces, it has prompted concerns the U.S. could again be drawn back into another country's war. (Via U.S. Department of Defense)

For his part, President Obama has made clear his desire to avoid what’s known as mission creep.

“I think we always have to guard against mission creep, so let me repeat what I’ve said in the past: American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again.” (Via The White House)

Mission creep is the idea that a military operation’s goals can expand unintentionally beyond their original purpose. Princeton University’s Julian Zelizer explains to CNN why this is often hard to avoid.

ZELIZER: “Something happens to the advisers, there’s pressure to increase military presence. The situation gets worse there and you’ve already committed to sending more troops.” (Via CNN)

There’s a precedent for this. The war in Vietnam started with Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy initially sending in a limited number of military advisors. But things escalated quickly. Five years after sending advisers, the U.S. had 500,000 troops in the country. (Via U.S. National Archives)

​And other U.S. engagements, including in Iraq and Afghanistan, started small then grew unintentionally over time. (Via U.S. Department of Defense)

The question in Iraq now is whether 300 military advisers will be enough to get the job done. The president seems to have left the door open to expansion — offering few specifics on their mission and not giving a timetable for when they're expected to leave. (Via ITN

The president’s critics say it's a poorly-defined mission, and that’s where the U.S. could get into trouble.

“These 300 advisers are being put in Iraq on the ground without any clear clarity about where this government is headed.” (Via Bloomberg)

“Everyone admits this is a huge mess, but none of our leaders have told us what we're going to get. With these 300 advisors what are we getting?" (Via ABC

National security hawks have pressured the president do more but it would be an especially tough sell to an already war-weary American public — reluctant to getting involved in another costly foreign war. (Via The Hill)

Not to mention, ending this type of military action was a central part of Obama's 2008 campaign. (Via C-SPAN)

That said, when outlining his plans for Iraq, the president stressed American troops won’t be returning to combat roles, and it's ultimately up to Iraq to solve its problems. But he also said the U.S. has an interest in preventing a full-blown civil war. (Via The White House)

Some observers have taken the president’s remarks to mean he could escalate U.S. involvement. For now, the 300 advisers will join the 275 troops already dispatched to Iraq to provide security at the U.S. embassy.

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