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Zalmay Khalilzad

by ISSAM NASHASHIBI

 

In addition to “weakening, containing and even rolling back Syria,” Israel should “focus on removing Saddam Hussain from power in Iraq-an important Israeli objective in its own right.”

These recommendations were contained in a 1996 paper prepared for then-incoming Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu by the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies. The paper’s authors included the current Under Secretary for Defense Policy and chair of the Defense Policy Board, Douglas Feith and Richard Perle, respectively.

Perle whet his neo-conservative whistle under Albert Wohlstetter, a University of Chicago mathematician who was key in drawing up the Pentagon’s strategic and nuclear blueprints during the Cold War. That same Wholstetter mentored many of the Bush administration’s reigning neo-conservatives, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, one of the most pro-Zionist of the so-called chickenhawks, and Zalmay Khalilzad.

Who? “Precisely,” said a former associate of the 52-year-old Afghani American and Pashtun native who was appointed last December as the president’s “special envoy and ambassador at large for free Iraqis.” “Part of his genius is that the people who are supposed to know about him, don’t even know he exists.” According to the White House announcement, Khalilzad “will serve as the focal point for contacts and coordination among free Iraqis for the U.S. government and for preparations for a post-Saddam Iraq.” Khalilzad’s qualifications include not only advocating Saddam’s ouster since the 1980s, but also his proven prowess in orchestrating the installation of the Hamid Karzai regime in Afghanistan after being appointed special U.S. envoy to Afghanistan in December 2001.

Neo-con Credentials

More importantly, perhaps, Khalilzad’s impeccable credentials make him a natural for membership in the neo-conservatives cabal which is the driving force behind Washington’s Iraq policy. “He has a narrow of view of the Middle East and South Asia,” his former associate stressed. “[Zalmay thinks of] security to the exclusion of everything else. He tends to look at military solutions as the first, not the last policy option.”

Such views may not have been inculcated during his education at the elitist Ghazi Lycée school in Kabul, where his father worked as an adviser to the Afghan king, Zahir Shah, or at the American University of Beirut in the early 1970s.

His hawkish views most likely were formed at the University of Chicago, where he studied under Wholstetter. After obtaining his Ph.D. in 1979, Khalilzad taught political science at Columbia University, where he worked with Zbigniew Brezezinsky, the Carter administration’s architect of the policy supporting the Afghan mujahideen resistance to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. In 1984 Khalilzad accepted a one-year fellowship to join the State Department, where he worked for Paul Wolfowitz, then the director of Policy Planning. His fellowship turned into a full-time position that extended through the Reagan administration.

In the first Bush administration, Khalilzad became assistant deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, again working for Paul Wolfowitz, who by then was the Number 3 man at the Pentagon. In that capacity, Khalilzad rejoined the coterie of policymakers who had successfully pressed the Reagan administration to provide arms to the Afghan mujahideen. During the 1991 Gulf war, Khalilzad caught the notice of then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, who stayed in close touch with him throughout the Clinton administration.

During the Clinton years, Khalilzad served as senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, a California think tank that performs policy studies for the U.S. military. At RAND, he was the director of strategy and doctrines for Project Air Force and founder of the Center for Greater Middle East Studies.

Khalilzad also signed the 1998 open letter calling on the Clinton administration to adopt a “comprehensive political and military strategy for bringing down Saddam and his regime.” The letter’s other signers include a litany of Bush administration hawks on Iraq, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and four of his top Pentagon deputies-Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Dov Zakheim and Peter Rodman-as well as the State Department’s undersecretary for arms control, John Bolton, and Undersecretary for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky. Another signatory to the 1998 letter was the person who, last December, replaced Khalilzad at the National Security Council as Advisor on Middle East Affairs: Elliot Abrams.

The letter was issued by the Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf, a 1991 spin-off of the Project for a New American Century, a group consisting mainly of neo-conservative Zionist Jews and Christians whose public recommendation for fighting the “war on terrorism” and alignment with Israeli Prime Minster Ariel Sharon have been an accurate predictor to the current administration’s policies.

That confirms the observation of a former Khalilzad associate: “He, Wolfowitz and Perle tend to reinforce each other. ”

Oil Credentials

Khalilzad’s oil credentials are no less impeccable than those of President Bush, Vice President Cheney, or National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who served on Chevron’s board of directors. Like current Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Khalilzad was a paid adviser to UNOCAL Corp., a U.S. oil company that was competing for Taliban approval to construct a $2 billion gas and oil pipeline across Afghanistan. While Khalilzad worked at the for-profit Cambridge Energy Associates, he conducted a risk analysis for UNOCAL. By 1997 he was a participant in UNOCAL’s negotiations with the Taliban. Moreover, as paid lobbyist for UNOCAL, he urged the Clinton administration to take a softer line on the Taliban.

Khalilzad’s attitude to the Taliban seems to have correlated well with UNOCAL’s efforts to build the pipeline. At the time, he defended the Taliban in an opinion published in The Washington Post. “The Taliban do not practice the anti-U.S. style of fundamentalism practiced by Iran,” he wrote in 1996. “We should…be willing to offer recognition and humanitarian assistance and to promote international economic reconstruction. It is time for the United States to re-engage,” he concluded.

In 1998, however, when the Taliban were implicated in the attack on the U.S. embassies in East Africa, UNOCAL ended its contact with the Taliban, and Khalilzad changed his tune. In the Winter 2000 issue of the Washington Quarterly, he co-authored “Afghanistan: Consolidation of a Rogue State“. In that article he proposed the following six-step strategy for transforming Afghanistan:

1) Change the balance of power by supporting anti-Taliban forces;

2) Oppose the Taliban ideology by strengthening Voice of America broadcasts;

3) Press Pakistan to withdraw its support for the Taliban;

4) Aid the victims of the Taliban to bolster their position;

5) Support moderate Afghanis through funding those who are anti-Taliban in their diaspora;

and 6) Elevate the importance of Afghanistan at home by raising the profile of the conflict with the Taliban in the U.S.-a strategy that has materialized into the administration’s post-9/11 policy.

The Cheney Connection

His connection with Dick Cheney during the Clinton years was influential in Khalilzad’s being selected to head George W. Bush’s transition team for the Pentagon. Significantly, however, he was not appointed to a sub-cabinet position-that would have required Senate confirmation and might have engendered uncomfortable questions for the administration. Khalilzad avoided embarrassing question about his UNOCAL connections and his flip-flopping views on the Taliban when he was appointed to the National Security Council, which does not require confirmation. At Cheney’s urging, President Bush in May 2001 appointed Khalilzad as a special assistant to the president and senior director for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia, reporting to Condoleezza Rice.

Like the Seldom-seen Kid in Damon Runyan’s tales of 1920s Chicago mobsters, Khalilzad has worked in relative obscurity as the president’s special envoy to Afghanistan and now to the Iraqi opposition.

Most recently, he shared the podium with former Israeli Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz at last October’s conference of the pro-Israel think tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. There Khalilzad declared that he hoped for a post-Saddam “broad-based and representative government that would renounce terror, give all religions and ethnic groups a voice and have no weapons of mass destruction and provides an example for peace.

“We will not enter Iraq as conquerors,” he added, but as “liberators.”

His many critics point out, however, that Khalilzad has been wrong as often as he has been right-going back to the days when he advocated arming the same Afghani groups that later spawned the Taliban. “If he was in private business rather than government,” said Anatol Lieven, an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for Peace in Washington, “he would have been sacked long ago.”

Khalilzad’s list of critics most recently included the same exiled Iraqi leadership whom he has pledged to help topple the Saddam Hussain regime. The London-based opposition leaders objected to his efforts to reach out to Adnan Pachachi, a strongly Arab nationalist octogenarian who once served as foreign minister and Iraq’s ambassador to the U.N.-and who supported Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

Issam M Nashashibi, a frequent writer on Arab issues, is a US-Based Director of Deir Yassin Remembered. This article originally appeared in Washington Report On Middle East Affairs. He can be reached at inashashibi@hotmail.com

 

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