Voice from the Commonwealth
Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams

Sunday, March 02, 2003

A little backgrounder on Zalmay Khalilzad.

The Afghan-born Mr. Khalilzad, the highest-ranking Muslim in the Bush administration, has quietly emerged as a key architect of Washington's ambitious plans for remaking the political landscape of the Persian Gulf and Central Asia.

This week, Mr. Khalilzad led a historic U.S. mission into Kurdish- controlled northern Iraq for a summit of Iraqi opposition leaders. Making a dramatic arrival at the Kurdish resistance's mountain stronghold of Salahuddin, along with an entourage of heavily armed U.S. agents, he laid out the Bush administration's vision of a prosperous and democratic post- Saddam Iraq.

"The horrors of the past will become a memory," Mr. Khalilzad assured the 56 opposition delegates assembled there. "A new Iraq will join the family of nations."

Officially, Mr. Khalilzad, 52, is White House senior director for Persian Gulf, Southwest Asian and other regional issues, working directly for U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.

The title minimizes his growing influence as a strategist, emissary and troubleshooter for Mr. Bush's doctrine of pre-emption in the region.

Mr. Khalilzad, a Middle East scholar and former oil-industry consultant, is also working as a key negotiator with Turkey, which has been resisting U.S. pressure to allow its troops to use Turkish soil as a key launch pad for invading Iraq.

Mr. Khalilzad has toiled in the shadows for decades as a foreign- policy expert in the Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. He is regarded as a protégé of U.S. Undersecretary of State Paul Wolfowitz, and a confidante of Defence Secretary Donald Rumseld and Vice-President Dick Cheney, the administration's leading foreign-policy hawks. When Mr. Bush became President in 2000, Mr. Khalilzad headed up Mr. Rumsfeld's transition team at the Pentagon.

Mr. Khalilzad, a native Pashtun who came to the United States as a graduate student, moved over to work at the White House four months before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

His remarkably prophetic pre- Sept. 11 warnings about the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, his early advocacy of overthrowing Mr. Hussein and his Muslim heritage have made him a respected voice within Mr. Bush's inner circle.

"Afghanistan is a haven for some of the world's most lethal anti-U.S. terrorists and their supporters," Mr. Khalilzad, then a political scientist at the Rand Corp., wrote along with colleague Daniel Byman in a winter, 2000, article.

"Bin Laden is only the most famous of a large and skilled network of radicals. . . . Owing to Taliban tolerance, the network bin Laden helped created flourishes in Afghanistan, where terrorists have a place to train, forge connections and indoctrinate others. They pose a threat to U.S. soldiers and civilians at home and abroad, to the Middle East peace process and to the stability of our allies in the region."

Warning against neglect, he and Mr. Byman urged the United States to undermine the Taliban regime by working with the Pashtun-led Northern Alliance, pressing Pakistan to cut off ties, providing humanitarian relief and then organizing a grand tribal council to plan a new government.

That strategy quickly became U.S. policy in the weeks after the terrorist attacks.

Mr. Khalilzad was similarly ahead of the curve on Iraq. In 1998, he joined Mr. Wolfowitz and others in signing an open letter to the Clinton administration, urging Mr. Hussein's overthrow. A decade earlier, he sparred with former secretary of state George Schultz by suggesting the United States should dump Iraq as a strategic partner in favour of closer ties with Iran.

< email | 3/02/2003 12:34:00 AM | link

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