The term "mission creep" is circulating again recently as the United States attempts to wind down operations in Iraq and other Middle East hotspots. Escalating crises have resulted in America's ultimate involvement being much more extensive than originally intended.
That's mission creep, and as Jules Suzdaltsev explains in today's Seeker Daily dispatch, its more or less endemic to certain kinds of foreign policy operations.
Simply put, mission creep is what happens when military actions or diplomatic engagements move beyond their original intention or framework. For instance, in the case of Iraq, U.S. involvement there began with the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, which simply established a policy of support for regime change in Iraq. As you may recall, things got a bit more complicated.
The potential for mission creep tends to grow in proportion to the complexity of actually accomplishing the original goals. For instance : In 2011, the UN adopted a resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Libyan civil war. Achieving that goal required creating a no-fly zone, imposing a weapons embargo and defending civilians.
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Even though the UN resolution specifically excluded introducing any foreign occupation force, the goals of the mission itself ultimately required doing so. Eventually, troops from a half dozen different countries entered Libya to enforce the resolution.
Similar dynamics are currently playing out in Syria and Iraq. President Obama has repeatedly promised "no boots on the ground" in regard to ISIS containment strategies, but rapidly changing circumstances have led to more than 5,000 service members in Iraq, and about 300 in Syria.
The term mission creep was first introduced in 1993, but the concept is as old as war itself, really. For military planners, it's a constant threat. The war in Iraq is an extreme example of mission creep, which often leads to escalating military engagement and even invasion. Check out this report for a rundown of countries that the U.S. has invaded in our 200-plus years of foreign policy adventures.
-- Glenn McDonald
Wall Street Journal: 'Mission Creep' Crawls Out of the '90s
The Atlantic: Mission Creep: When Everything Is Terrorism
Time: Obama's Mission Creep in Iraq
Council on Foreign Relations: Scowcroft: Avoiding Mission Creep in Libya