America’s War in Iraq: Broad Ambitions, Few Details

Officials Haven't Even Settled on a Public Name for War

The Obama Administration’s newest war on Iraq has been going for only a portion of the current month, but has already been expanded repeatedly and dramatically in scope, initially presented to the public as a “humanitarian intervention” and since becoming a full-scale air war, with ground troops seemingly only a matter of time.

It’s even expanding beyond the borders of Iraq, starting just in the area immediately surrounding the Kurdish capital of Irbil, and now spanning not just Iraq, but into Syria as well.

Every idea that has been floated on expanding the war, from Kurdistan to Baghdad to Anbar to Syria, has been embraced. Officials have liked every idea so far, even though they haven’t come up with a name for it.

That may not be entirely accidental, because unlike 2003’s “Operation Iraqi Liberation,” which came both with a broad, but clear ambition and the unfortunate acronym OIL, the new war is still being cobbled together piecemeal.

Though it’s unlikely that the Obama Administration went into this new war without knowing full well how quickly it would escalate out of control, they seem to have a preference for keeping the goals undefined and growing all the time, as a way to ease Americans into a wildly unpopular war.

Where this leaves Congress is unclear, as it was only weeks ago that they were voting against a new Iraq War without a new authorization, and now an “emergency” intervention on humanitarian grounds is snowballing into a border-spanning, open-ended conflict.

Even calling it “Operation Destroy ISIS” or some such now might be limiting to the administration’s ambitions for another transformative conflict in the Middle East, since Iraq unity is also a military goal that will likely be an issue with or without ISIS in the picture.

Where Obama’s War, and this will very much be the defining war of his presidency, ends up in the months and years to come remains to be seen, but one unmistakable feature is the policy of keeping details scant and changing the goalline on a near daily basis, allowing them to sell a huge war as something much smaller.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of