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“How we get out makes a lot of difference,” he said. “We have strong national interests … and moral obligations … to try to leave the country in such a way that we give Iraq a chance for a better future.”

Mr. Hamilton, now the president of the Woodrow Wilson Center, a think tank in Washington, said he was “deeply disappointed at the failure of political leadership” in Iraq.

He noted that Iraq’s parliament had barely met at all since the election, that “key ministries cannot spend their budgets” and that the electricity grid is still not functioning properly, despite $5 billion the United States had plowed into it.

“The situation is worse than most Americans realize,” he concluded. “There is a very long way to go in Iraq.”

Administration officials stress that even when the last of the troops leave Iraq, U.S. endeavors there will continue. Mr. Obama said last week the pullout is a transition “from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats.”

But Mr. Hamilton said successive U.S. administrations “have always had difficulties … in handing off from military to civilian leadership” as was the plan in Iraq, “in major part because of resources … but also because of capabilities.”

The military was much better resourced, and “we don’t have the capabilities on the civilian side for this kind of nation-building,” the former congressman said.

He cautioned that public expectations about the future of Iraq could be a problem. “There is a sense in the country that we have succeeded in Iraq, and I don’t think we have. … The game is still in doubt.”