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Why the hell is the United States going back into Iraq? And to what end?

Americans famously don’t know much about history, but the willingness to ignore the immediate decade-plus of failure and plunge back into the fog of war without any clear articulation of national interests, exit strategy, or even obvious battle plan borders on the criminally insane.

In last week’s official notification to Congress, President Obama invoked immediate, limited humanitarian aims as the trigger for action— who doesn’t feel for the the Yazidis, who are already suffering under the lunatic vision of a Caliphate propounded by the Islamic State?

But as The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake reported, he’s using that aspect of the mission to provide cover for a far more expansive “military campaign [that] would last months and not weeks.” Our goal, the president said at a press conference, is to make sure the Islamic State “is not engaging in actions that could cripple a country.” How’s that for an open-ended statement of purpose?

We’ve seen this before. Although Obama didn’t bother notifying Congress about American involvement in Libya, the president also used humanitarian motives (a possible genocide) to justify military action against Qaddafi. It’s an understatement to say that it didn’t work out well, in Libya and in nearby countries).

The early reports of U.S. bombing runs in Iraq are not reassuring, with the military’s director of operations, Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville, flatly declaring this week, “I in no way want to suggest that we have effectively contained, or that we are somehow breaking the momentum of [the Islamic State].” That can change, of course, but it’s already leading to increased numbers of military personnel pouring into Iraq. The White House is already talking about how “American ground troops” might be used in rescue missions for the Yazidi and toldThe New York Times that “the troops would have the ability to defend themselves if they came under fire.” What comes next if that happens?

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