Zalmay Khalilzad is making up for lost time. Remember those long, slow, and eventless years of US foreign policy during the Clinton administration? (Certainly slow and eventless for the tastes of the PNAC signatories.) Well, they are over now, and all the activist diplomats and strategists like Khalilzad who languished in policy institutes during those days have now come to the fore and are using all the energy of those days of dormancy to shape the world and aid in the inexorable march of history.
In fact, at times this energy and enthusiasm is so out of control that it draws rebuke: in a recent memo the White House security advisor Stephen J.Hadley suggested that Zalmay Khalilzad ought to “to move into the background and let (Prime Minister) Nouri al-Maliki take more credit for positive developments.” For those familiar with the details of Khalilzad’s stint in Kabul, this comes as no surprise. Between Khalilzad and Karzai, the former always was the one with the bigger K in his name. That lame joke in the media about Karzai being the mayor only of Kabul, it seems, was also misplaced. The real mayor was always Khalilzad, and by some accounts, he still retains some of that capacity. Karzai must have sighed in relief when Khalilzad left town, and while the latter still gives an earful on the phone “almost daily,” his return to Kabul would be the last straw in Karzai’s legitimacy and would undo what political bearings he has got left with the people of Afghanistan. Khalilzad’s return to Kabul is ill-advised by any measure. (For a more compelling argument of this position see Demilitarized Warlord’s latest post.)
I know little about how Khalilzad views the UN. If his activist and often strong-handed, even unilateral personal style are any indication, it would seem that he has little patience for UN’s gargantuan bureaucracy and bickering. Yet he seems to want the job all the same.