June 11, 2008

Shaping the Iraq Inheritance

By Colin H. Kahl, Michèle Flournoy and Shawn Brimley

American policy in Iraq will undergo two critical transitions throughout the remainder of 2008 and into early 2009: movement to a new U.S. posture in Iraq; and a wartime transition to a new administration. It is vital that both are handled in a way that best advances U.S. interests in Iraq and the region. Yet neither is being paid sufficient attention. Shaping the Iraq Inheritance outlines America’s interests in Iraq and the region, analyzes recent security and political trends, presents a framework for understanding U.S. strategic options, and makes recommendations for how the Bush administration, the military, and Congress can best prepare for the dangerous period ahead.

The report places America’s interests in Iraq within a regional and global context, and suggests that the United States must simultaneously attempt to avoid a failed state in Iraq while not strategically over-committing to Iraq. The report examines current security and political trends, and suggests that success in Iraq requires additional steps toward political accommodation and improved governance. The report then outlines a policy of conditional engagement—a strategy that initiates a phased, negotiated redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq while conditioning residual support to the Iraqi government on continued political progress—and argues that it offers the best chance of achieving sustainable stability in Iraq while balancing U.S. commitments worldwide.

Finally, the report outlines steps that must be taken to smooth the handover of Iraq policy from this administration to the next. The Bush administration must prioritize prepara tion in three areas over the next six months: the development of an interagency transition plan; enhancing the situational awareness of both the Republican and Democratic Presidential candidates and their top national security advisers on Iraq; and hand-tooling personnel transitions for senior positions critical to Iraq policy and operations.

Watch the panel discussion on this report from the CNAS Annual June Conference in June 2008:


  • Colin H. Kahl

    Middle East Security

    Dr. Colin H. Kahl is an associate professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and the former National Securi...

  • Michèle Flournoy

    Member, CNAS Board of Directors, Chief Executive Officer, WestExec Advisors

    Michèle Flournoy is Co-Founder and Managing Partner of WestExec Advisors, and former Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), w...

  • Shawn Brimley

    Former Executive Vice President and Director of Studies

    Shawn Brimley was the Executive Vice President and Director of Studies at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), where he managed the center’s research agenda and staf...

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