New Orleans I had the equivalent of one of those Hollywood slap-in-the-face wakeups after giving my son a lift to open up at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse. I was listening to NPR until I could connect to WAMF, and they were running an interview with Zalmay Khalilzad, who, among other jobs, most recently served as a special envoy negotiating the final agreement in Afghanistan with the government and the Taliban.
Khalilzad is no slouch, having served under four US presidents until his recent resignation. Wikipedia spells out pretty clearly that his time over twenty years in and around Afghanistan was no fluke during that period. From 2007 to 2009…
Khalilzad was the United States Ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush and, briefly, President Barack Obama. Khalilzad’s previous assignments in the Bush administration included Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2004 to 2005 and Ambassador to Iraq from 2005 to 2007. In 2017, he was considered for Secretary of State in the Trump administration. He served as the Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation at the State Department from September 2018 to August 2021, in both the Trump and Biden administrations, overseeing the United States withdrawal from Afghanistan.
There’s little question that he was a card-carrying member of the Republican and beltway foreign relations establishment.
He was taking incoming from the interviewer. What was interesting to me was how he answered a question about whether he was being made a “scapegoat” for the fall of the country to the Taliban now. In his words, he served “management,” meaning whoever was president at the time and their instructions. Going back to the George W stint as the chief executive of the country, he described Bush’s philosophy as seeing the Middle East as a contemporary map replaying a similar situation in Europe after World War II and the Cold War, but this time where Iraq and Afghanistan would be countries where the US could leverage them with guns and butter into democracies. Needless to say, he flatly stated that it didn’t turn out well, but it was startling to be reminded of the sheer hubris of such a foreign policy and though he is no innocent, there is also no doubt that those are the orders he was being given to implement by “management” in the White House.
There were a number of questions about whether or not the deal with the Taliban did enough to protect women and girls’ rights. He danced a bit on this one. He made a case for how much better the current situation is compared to the Talibs’ last time in charge. When the music stopped though he would repeatedly remind the interlocutor, as well as the rest of us, that we lost the war and had been losing for a long, long time. Losers don’t get to call the shots after they lose.
Those who are finger-pointing now, should be careful about going too far since their fingerprints are all over this mess and have been for years. He thought we should learn something from our defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan in terms of lives lost, money spent, and what it portends for our future policies.
On that point, how can there be any disagreement?