Diplomacy and America’s Purpose in the World: A Discussion with Zalmay Khalilzad


A bit more than a week ago, I had a fascinating discussion with outgoing US Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad who also previously served as US Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan. It runs about 90 minutes long – and I think is well worth listening to in total.
I refer frequently to this piece on “Ten Lessons in Nation Building” and “How to Nation-Build” by Khalilzad which ran in the journal, The National Interest.
More soon.
— Steve Clemons


15 comments on “Diplomacy and America’s Purpose in the World: A Discussion with Zalmay Khalilzad

  1. Don Bacon says:

    With all due respect, anyone who has been truly listening to Obama for the last couple of years already knew what his character was and is.
    In short, he is a compromising liar. The first part of that is his supposed “change” — he will compromise his own pastor, whatever, to promote himself. Meanwhile he has voted for every war spending and eavesdropping bill and he lies about the facts in Palestine and Iran, for two examples.
    Obama is now killing kids in Pakistan and he will kill some more — he needn’t depend on the Israelis entirely.


  2. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Israel may have the right to put others on trial, but certainly no one has the right to put the Jewish people and the State of Israel on trial.” – Ariel Sharon


  3. Cee says:

    Soon after the 1967 war, Moshe Dayan wrote in his memories regarding the ethnic cleansing and destruction of the ‘Imwas, Bayt Nuba, Yalu, and big portion of the West Bank city of Qalqilya:
    “[houses were destroyed] not in battle, but as punishment . . . and in order to CHASE AWAY the inhabitants . . . contrary to government policy.” (Righteous Victims, p. 328)


  4. PissedOffAmerican says:

    And just like what they did in Lebanon, the indigenous suppliers of sustainance were targeted. This justification of acting in “defense” against the rocket attacks is pure unadulterated Isreali shit. The more that is revealed, the more it becomes obvious that Israel’s “goals” were to further torture, eliminate, isolate, and dehumanize the Palestinian people.
    Obama, in less than two weeks, has already revealed himself. For him to so callously ignore what just occurred in Gaza is a window into his character, and a true gauge of what we can expect for the next 4 years…..
    Gaza faces failed harvests after the bombardment
    by IsraelSheera Frenkel in Zeitoun and James Hider in Jerusalem
    Samir Sawafiri pointed at several dozen hungry chickens scavenging for food between the crushed bodies of nearly 65,000 other birds strewn across a destroyed farm in Zeitoun in Gaza City.
    “They are all that is left and I have nowhere to put them,” he said. The poultry farms around Zeitoun used to be the Gaza Strip’s main provider of eggs, according to Oxfam. Little but twisted metal and crumbling concrete now remains of the poor suburb on the eastern outskirts of Gaza, one of the areas hit hardest during the war.
    “I evacuated on January 9,” Mr Sawafiri said. “Three days later, on January 12, tanks came with bulldozers and levelled the fields. They wanted to spoil the economy – that is the only answer. There is no justification for what they did.” Israel says that Zeitoun is a known Hamas stronghold, and that militants used its fields to launch Qassam rockets into Israel.


  5. PissedOffAmerican says:

    So, Mitchell is headed for the Middle East, but he’s not going to talk to Hamas. But he is going to talk to Israel, who just admitted to the illegal use of White Phosphorous, and has just incinerated a few hundred Palestinian women and children.
    Change, eh?
    Not to worry, Peres has already informed us that the Israeli government has nothing to worry about….
    “In three days George Mitchell will arrive, and I’ve been reading in the papers that we need to prepare for pressure and almost to wear a bullet-proof vest. I’m not sure we should feel so pressured. How will the US pressure us? To make peace? To fight terror? To prevent Iran from wreaking havoc? I see Mitchell as an envoy of a good thing, of a country we support,”
    “Don’t worry about our puppy Obama, he’s not going to rock the boat.”


  6. Cee says:

    and we’ll close our eyes to the widening of the Afghan war and the extension of American military assets throughout Central Asia.
    October 11, 1996: Afghan Pipeline Key to ‘One of the Great Prizes of the 21st Century’ The Daily Telegraph publishes an interesting article about pipeline politics in Afghanistan. “Behind the tribal clashes that have scarred Afghanistan lies one of the great prizes of the 21st century, the fabulous energy reserves of Central Asia.… ‘The deposits are huge,’ said a diplomat from the region. ‘Kazakhstan alone may have more oil than Saudi Arabia. Turkmenistan is already known to have the fifth largest gas reserves in the world.’” [Daily Telegraph, 10/11/1996]


  7. Don Bacon says:

    Zal says go with the long one:
    Any effort to build the post-war order must be based on a fundamental understanding of the aspirations or political center of gravity of a newly liberated society and must be implemented by civilian and military leaders who know how to align the United States with those goals.
    But the new strategy is to go short:
    WASHINGTON, Jan. 23, 2009 – As part of the Obama administration’s assessment of the strategy being employed in Afghanistan, the U.S. military will focus its efforts on achieving shorter-term goals there, the Defense Department’s top official said here yesterday.
    “One of the points where I suspect both administrations come to the same conclusion, is that the goals we did have for Afghanistan are too broad and too far into the future,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters at a Pentagon press conference. ///
    Going long with a corrupt Karzai administration has resulted in the Taliban in control of 72% of the country. So much for nation-building Zal-style. Now the short-term goal is to keep the Taliban from re-taking Kabul.
    Zal would make a terrific used-car salesman. You can’t help but like the guy (but don’t believe him).


  8. Cee says:

    KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – President Hamid Karzai condemned a U.S. operation he said killed 16 Afghan civilians, while hundreds of villagers denounced the American military during an angry demonstration Sunday.
    Karzai said the killing of innocent Afghans during U.S. military operations “is strengthening the terrorists.”
    He also announced that his Ministry of Defense sent Washington a draft technical agreement that seeks to give Afghanistan more oversight over U.S. military operations. The same letter has also been sent to NATO headquarters.
    Karzai in recent weeks has increasingly lashed out at his Western backers over the issue of civilian casualties, even as U.S. politicians and a top NATO official have publicly criticized Karzai for the slow pace of progress here.


  9. Cee says:

    I’d like know how Khalilkad feels about the rumor that Obama is moving away from Karzai.
    I’d also like to know if he is pushing Obama closer to the Taliban like he tried to do with Clinton when he was a paid lobbyist for UNOCAL.


  10. JohnH says:

    Compassionate colonialism is a mirage. Lyautey tried it in Morocco a hundred years ago. An entirely natural collusion of forces doomed the venture, making it just another ordinary colonial enterprise. You can read all about it in Douglas Porch’s “The Conquest of Morocco.”
    Besides getting off on entirely the wrong foot in both Iraq and Afghanistan, America has no one with the character of Lyautey.
    Doomed to fail, Compassionate Colonialist ventures will be nothing more than occupations, more or less brutal. Khalilzad must know this. His “Ten Lessons” should be viewed as an attempt to put lipstick on a pig, another neo-conmen attempt to BS the American people about the goodness of America’s intentions, while entirely glossing over whatever happens on the ground.
    And as usual, the corporate media and stink tank America stand ready and eager to provide the gloss.


  11. ... says:

    Dan K – what was and what is are 2 different things.. the usa has become something quite different.
    i agree with JohnH…
    how would americans feel if others had an agenda for them that was enforced militarily, but done with better diplomacy? is diplomacy supposed to come along afterward to try to smooth over stuff that is dreadful to begin with? what is the agenda of the usa in all its military entanglements? to claim it is about ‘freedom’ or ‘democracy’ is not something most folks are going to buy unless it is a few local americans… the rest of the globe see usa’s intent as a lot darker and for good reason…
    i apologize for not watching the youtube as it’s longer then i can commit to.. i looked at the links and was put off by the whole concept.. before thinking of how to make changes in other places around the world, why not come up with some objective and international reasons for doing so? the usa appears to always be nurturing irrational fears that help perpetuate it’s vacuous military complex bubble.. putting lipstick on a pig is all diplomacy is going to do for this and it won’t be fooling too many as i see it..


  12. Dan Kervick says:

    There really should not be much confusion about the purpose of United States America in this world. Unlike most countries of the world, the US republic was formed by its people in a deliberate, creative, democratic act, complete with an explicit charter, and a statement of purpose that is as clear as could be reasonably demanded.
    The people of the United States formed the constitutional republic of the United States of America in order to perfect their union, and to establish justice among themselves, insure their domestic tranquility, provide for their common defense, promote their general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to themselves and their posterity.


  13. JohnH says:

    Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi uses an interesting phrase: “objective diplomacy.” I’m not sure exactly what it means. But if it means “diplomacy with an objective in mind,” I’m all for it. I’m not a fan of “diplomacy for diplomacy’s sake,” which strikes me as a cover for going down to Starbuck’s and shooting the breeze with your opposite number from a foreign country.
    Which brings me to Khalilzad’s “Ten Lessons.” The lessons could well be valuable. It’s hard to tell, because there is no mention of why America is there or what it is trying to accomplish.
    About all you can conclude about America’s actions is that they destroyed Afghanistan to save it. Then they realized belatedly that maybe they ought to save it from the aftermath of what they “saved.” Or perhaps they had a mysterious epiphany accompanied by an urgent, inexplicable need to rebuild it. That’s where Khalilzad’s piece seems to fit it.
    Of course, it leaves out the crucial piece–what is America trying to accomplish? Without such critical direction, it’s hard to know if Khalilzad’s lessons make sense or not.
    Phrases such as, “it is vital for the United States to POSITION ITSELF as an ally,” do not make me comfortable. What Khalilzad seems to be saying is that it’s OK to be a colonial power, but not OK to be seen as one. The rest of the pieces reads in a similar vein. Maybe the title should really have read “How to be a Compassionate Colonialist.”
    Somehow I don’t think Americans are particularly interested in owning other peoples, which is most likely why Khalilzad and the rest of the foreign policy mob are so insistent on keeping their real objectives a secret.


  14. Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi says:

    Prgamatically, the purpose of American objective diplomacy should be more forceful than its subjective/rhetorically advocated diplomatic interventions.For the 21st century the model of tranformational diplomacy of democratic idealism/globalism should be replaced by US’s historic values of humanistic diplomaticism, closedly embarking on Hegels and Hobbes-envisaged political doctrines.


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