Ends, Ways, and Means in Iraq: 10 Issues for the Obama Administration

Ends, Ways, and Means in Iraq: 10 Issues for the Obama Administration
President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Nov. 30, 2006, in Amman, Jordan. White House photo by Paul Morse.

President-elect Barack Obama will inherit an Iraq that has experienced substantial improvements in security, but remains rife with unresolved internal issues. If not handled carefully, Iraq's fragile progress could dissolve and the country could become a dangerous foreign policy minefield for yet another American president. Here are the top 10 issues the next administration must address:

1. Determination of Objectives: The Bush administration invested vast resources in the hopes of achieving maximalist aims in Iraq. Though the results in Iraq have clearly fallen short of those aims, the Obama administration needs to formulate a policy that is more comprehensive and nuanced than "end this war." What can the U.S. realistically achieve? What are the outcomes that the U.S. can or cannot live with? How does Iraq fit in to a cogent strategy for the broader region, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran?

2. Approach to Withdrawal: The Status of Forces Agreement moving forward between the U.S. and Iraqi governments, combined with the urgent need for reinforcements in Afghanistan, will shape the contours of withdrawal. But what if Baghdad wants to change the schedule? Will changing conditions on the ground affect the pace and process of withdrawal? Is Washington willing to extend or accelerate the current "time horizon" if the security situation significantly deteriorates?

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