In the case of Iraq, the American goal has been to leave a stable and representative government, avoid a power vacuum that neighboring states and terrorists could exploit and maintain sufficient influence so that Iraq would be a partner or, at a minimum, not an opponent in the Middle East.
But the Obama administration has fallen frustratingly short of some of those objectives.
The attempt by Mr. Obama and his senior aides to fashion an extraordinary power-sharing arrangement between Mr. Maliki and Mr. Allawi never materialized. Neither did an agreement that would have kept a small American force in Iraq to train the Iraqi military and patrol the country’s skies. A plan to use American civilians to train the Iraqi police has been severely cut back. The result is an Iraq that is less stable domestically and less reliable internationally than the United States had envisioned.
The story of these efforts has received little attention in a nation weary of the conflict in Iraq, and administration officials have rarely talked about them. This account is based on interviews with many of the principals, in Washington and Baghdad.
White House officials portray their exit strategy as a success, asserting that the number of civilian fatalities in Iraq is low compared with 2006, when the war was at its height. Politics, not violence, has become the principal means for Iraqis to resolve their differences, they say. “Recent news coverage of Iraq would suggest that as our troops departed, American influence went with them and our administration shifted its focus away from Iraq,” Antony Blinken, the national security adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., said in a speech in March. “The fact is, our engagements have increased.”