A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Let's Not Do This: Khalilzad to Work with Karzai?

If you read this story in The New York Times, which says that former Ambassador to Afghanistan (and Iraq) Zalmay Khalilzad has been negotiating with Hamid Karzai to be a sort of "Chief Executive Officer" in helping run Afghanistan, I wonder if you were struck, as I was, with just how many negatives the idea would have. No offense to Khalilzad, who certainly knows his native land, but I have to agree with the quote by Teresita Schaffer at CSIS that "This has the makings of a really bad movie." She also says, “The idea of having an American as a major senior official of Afghanistan is a very risky one both for the Afghan government and the person in question.” Exactly.

Look, let's be clear: even if Khalilzad is the answer to all of Afghanistan's problems, putting an American citizen of Afghan origin at the right hand of Karzai is a bad idea. The fact that as Ambassador, Khalilzad, himself born in Afghanistan, exerted a great deal of influence as America's man in Kabul means that to many Afghans, and I certainly would think this includes the Taliban and other opponents of Karzai, he will always be seen as America's man. In my recent discussion of Eric Davis' list of "sins" in Middle East analysis, I noted how often we fail to see how our actions may be perceived as classic imperialism by Middle Easterners even when we think of ourselves as pure of heart. But an American éminence grise at Karzai's right hand? Please, no.

The article quoted an Administration official as saying he would be “a prime minister, except not prime minister because he wouldn’t be responsible to a parliamentary system.”

I think the word the official is groping for is viceroy.

That's why it's a bad idea.

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