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Foreign Policy and the New President
Kevin Phillips, photo by Robin Holland
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November 14, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama will assume the presidency in a tumultuous world, and one of his first challenges will be managing two wars — and their consequences — in the Middle East. Foreign policy experts warn that Obama must not only be ready to deal with Iraq and Afghanistan, but also with the complicated interplay of powers and interests in the Middle East, both regional and international.

Journalist Elizabeth Rubin of the NEW YORK TIMES and columnist Fred Kaplan of SLATE.COM join Deborah Amos on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL to explain the challenges facing President-elect Obama in the Middle East, how they think his approach will differ from that of President Bush, and what that could mean for the region.

In a recent FRONTLINE documentary about the US in Afghanistan, "The War Briefing," Michael Sheuer, who served in the CIA from 1982-2004, predicted that the next president was in for a wake up call in Afghanistan, stating, "The next president will face a situation where, in the next year or two, he will have to make the decision that faced the Soviets in 1988, either to massively reinforce and to wage a war very aggressively, or to get out. That's the inheritance of the next president. And Mr. McCain or Mr. Obama will find that their dreams of straightening things out with two brigades are exactly that, they're dreams."

>Read more about the crisis in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Though violence is down considerably since the height of the fighting, many difficult political and security issues remain to be resolved. Iraq also faces a serious refugee crisis. Two million people have been displaced by the fighting within the country and another two million are living uneasy and unwelcome existences in neighboring countries.

>Watch Bill Moyers' interview with Deborah Amos and George Packer about Iraqi refugees.

The Status of Forces Agreement
In the interview with Deborah Amos, Fred Kaplan mentions the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) currently being negotiated between Iraq and United States. The agreement is needed to provide legal justification for the continued U.S. presence in Iraq and to answer lingering questions: What is the legal status of independent contractors and U.S. soldiers who commit crimes in Iraq? When will the U.S. leave? What will be the continued relationship between the two countries? In what circumstances would it be legal for the U.S. to come back?

The agreement has already gone through numerous revisions. In early November 2008, the United States made what U.S. officials called its final offer, agreeing to nearly all of Iraq's demands. The Iraqi government says it wants to conclude the agreement as soon as possible, and the cabinet will vote on the agreement around November 16, 2008. However, members of parliament are considering putting the agreement to a public vote to reduce their burden of responsibility for the controversial document.

The proposed plan calls for U.S. troops to withdrawal from cities by June 2009 and from the country by the end of 2011. In the most recent revision, the U.S. accepted most of the Iraqi government's demands, including the removal of a clause that would have allowed U.S. troops to remain in Iraq after the 2011 deadline, but passage is still far from certain. Powerful Shiite interests continue to oppose the bill, and Iran and Syria have urged the Iraqis to reject it as well. At issue remains the legal status of U.S. troops who commit crimes in Iraq. The U.S. has agreed to allow Iraq to prosecute independent contractors who commit crimes and U.S. soldiers who commit serious crimes when off-duty and off-base, but Iraq wants a greater say in which crimes it can prosecute.

Currently, a United Nations resolution provides legal justification for the United State's presence in Iraq. The resolution is set to expire on December 31, and, rather than renew it, as the U.N. has done in the past, the Iraqi government has been pushing hard for a more formal SOFA to codify relations between the two countries. If the resolution cannot be passed in time, Iraqi officials have said they will ask the U.N. to extend the mandate. If they are forced to do that, however, the U.S. and the Iraqi governments may have a difficult time convincing Iraqis -- and Americans -- that the U.S. is serious about leaving the country.

Elizabeth Rubin
Photo by Robin Holland Elizabeth Rubin is the Edward R. Murrow press fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and a contributing writer at the NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE. Since October 2001, she has reported extensively from Afghanistan on the overthrow of the Taliban, life and politics under President Hamid Karzai, the rise of the new Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and American counterinsurgency efforts. For the past decade she has worked as a foreign correspondent, writing from Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Russia, the Caucasus, the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans. Her stories have appeared in the NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE, the ATLANTIC MONTHLY, the NEW REPUBLIC, HARPER'S, and the NEW YORKER. Her reportage in HARPER'S "An Army of One's Own," about private armies, diamond wars, and state collapse in Sierra Leone, was a National Magazine Award finalist and earned an Overseas Press Club citation for excellence. She was selected for a Livingston Award for International Reporting for her NEW YORKER piece "Our Children Are Killing Us," about the Lord's Resistance Army, a rebel Ugandan group financed by the Sudanese and composed of kidnapped Ugandan children. She also won the Kurt Schork Award for International Reporting and a Michael Kelly Award.

Fred Kaplan
Photo by Robin Holland FRED KAPLAN is the national-security columnist for Slate magazine and author of DAYDREAM BELIEVERS: HOW A FEW GRAND IDEAS WRECKED AMERICAN POWER. He has also written about national-security affairs for the NEW YORK TIMES, the WASHINGTON POST, THE ATLANTIC, and many other publications. For 20 years, he was a staff reporter for the BOSTON GLOBE, covering the Pentagon in the last decade of the Cold War and heading the paper's Moscow bureau at the start of the post-Soviet era. Before that, from 1978-80, he was the foreign- and defense-policy adviser to Rep. Les Aspin. He is also the author of THE WIZARDS OF ARMAGEDDON (1983), an award-winning history of the nuclear strategists.

Guest photos by Robin Holland

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Photographer Lori Grinker on Displaced Iraqis
Photographer Lori Grinker takes viewers to Amman, Jordan for a devastating look at the fate of Iraqis displaced by the conflict.

References and Reading:
Elizabeth Rubin

"Battle Company Is Out There,"
By Elizabeth Rubin, THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE, February 24, 2008.

"Taking the Fight to the Taliban "
By Elizabeth Rubin, THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE, October 26, 2006.

"Women's Work"
By Elizabeth Rubin, THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE, October 9, 2005.

"How Sudan Was Brought to Court"
By Elizabeth Rubin,TIME MAGAZINE, July 22, 2008.

"The Millimeter Revolution "
By Elizabeth Rubin, THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE, April 6, 2003.

Fred Kaplan

"Downsizing our dominance"
By Fred Kaplan, THE LA TIMES, February 3, 2008.

"Challenging the Generals"
By Fred Kaplan, NEW YORK TIMES, August 26, 2007.

"FRESH AIR: Fred Kaplan"
Fred Kaplan on NPR's FRESH AIR.

Fred Kaplan's column on SLATE.COM.


"Iraq: Before, After and Now"
By Joshua Hammer, NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, December 4, 2008.

"Is This a 'Victory'?"
By Peter W. Galbraith, NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, October 23, 2008.

"Reopening of Iraq bridge symbolizes renewed unity"
By Usama Redha, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, November 12, 2008.

"Viewpoint: Bad case of Baghdadophobia"
BBC, November 4, 2008.

"Iraqi Refugees Find Michigan Is No Land Of Plenty"
by Jamie Tarabay, NPR MORNING EDITION, November 11, 2008.

"Battle for Iraq's 3rd city hangs in the balance"
By Denis D. Gray, ASSOCIATED PRESS, November 11, 2008.

"Two G.I's Reported Killed by Iraqi Soldier in Mosul"
By Sam Dagher, NEW YORK TIMES, November 12, 2008.

Iraq: Status of Forces Agreement
"'Final' Deal On Troops In Iraq Could Still Face Delays"
by Corey Flintoff, NPR WEEKEND EDITION, November 8, 2008.

"U.S. Makes Firmer Commitment to Pullout Date in Draft of Iraq Accord "
By Thom Shanker and Steven Lee Myers, THE NEW YORK TIMES, October 17, 2008.

"US still hopeful for security deal with Iraq"
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, November 11, 2008.

"Iraq to vote on US pact at weekend: minister"
AFP, November 12, 2008.

"Doubts About Withdrawal From Iraq"
NATIONAL JOURNAL interview with Iraqi Kurdistan President and the Army's former reconstruction chief on the Status of Forces Agreement.

Published November 14, 2008

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