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An Acceptable Dictator for Afghanistan?

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Viceroy, Counsel-General, or CEO. Whatever he’s called, it appears that Afghan-born US foreign policy establishment figure Zalmay Khalilzad is being sized up for a new role: An “acceptable” dictator for Afghanistan.

By Stephen Gowans

From close to the end of the 19th century for twenty-five years, the real ruler of Egypt was Sir Evelyn Baring of the British banking establishment, Baring Brothers. Sir Evelyn ran Egypt’s affairs as Counsel-General, following the principle that the interests of British bondholders and those of the Egyptian people were identical. (1)

Was it Sir Evelyn that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had in mind when he prodded Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai to talk to the former US ambassador to occupied Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, about becoming the “chief executive officer” (that is, Counsel-General) of Afghanistan?

Or does Khalilzad, the Afghan-born member of the US foreign policy establishment, fit the bill as the “acceptable” dictator Washington and London have searched for, to strengthen their precarious hold over Afghanistan?

In a diplomatic cable leaked last autumn, then British ambassador Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, warned that,

“The current situation (in Afghanistan) is bad, the security situation is getting worse, so is corruption, and the government has lost all trust. The presence of the coalition, in particular, its military presence, is part of the problem, not part of its solution. Foreign forces are the lifeline of a regime that would rapidly collapse without them. As such, they slow down and complicate a possible emergence from the crisis.” (2)

The only “realistic” path, reasoned the British ambassador, is for Afghanistan to be “governed by an acceptable dictator.”

A half year later, The New York Times (3) revealed that Khalilzad — who in Afghanistan had been “involved to a degree that is virtually unheard of for an ambassador” –- is being considered for a job that he and Karzai describe “as the chief executive officer of Afghanistan.” (4)

Washington denies ownership of the idea, but all the same, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Richard Holbrooke, the US special representative to the region, have signed off on it.

Washington is concerned “that any belief that the West was behind the plan would harm its chances inside Afghanistan,” which means, even if US officials are prodding Karzai to take on Khalilzad as CEO, they’re not going to admit it. This is to be seen as an idea Karzai had himself, possibly implanted by Brown, but in no way bearing a stamp marked Made in the USA.

Apart from his duties as ambassador to occupied Afghanistan, Khalilzad also served as US ambassador to occupied Iraq and the UN.

He is said to have considered challenging Karzai – who has increasingly fallen out of favor with his imperial masters in Washington — for the presidency in elections scheduled in August, but missed the May 8 deadline for filing and didn’t want to relinquish his US citizenship.

As an assistant professor at Columbia University, Khalilzad worked with Zbigniew Brzezinski, architect of the Carter administration policy of backing the Islamic resistance to the reforms introduced by the pro-Soviet revolutionary government of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan. Brzezinski sought to draw the Soviet Union into (as he put it) its own Vietnam, by backing the reaction to the Afghan Revolution. The outcome was an end to a project of advancing Afghan literacy, education and women’s and economic rights, and the plunging of the country back into the darkness of warlordism and feudal backwardness.

Khalilzad later worked at the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank which brings together CEOs, scholars, and government and military officials in discussion groups to formulate policy to reflect the interests of the corporations and hereditary capitalist families that provide its funding and furnish its directors. CFR policy papers are then submitted to the US State Department, to be turned into policy by the former CFR personnel who are routinely placed in senior State Department positions.

There is a continual migration of personnel between the CFR and the State Department, and Khalilzad, no less than other fixtures of the US foreign policy establishment, moved easily between the two organizations. He followed up his stint at the CFR by moving to the State Department, where he worked with Paul Wolfowitz, who would later become architect of the US war of conquest on Iraq, and acted as an advisor on US support for the feudal and religious reaction in Afghanistan.

His State Department duty was followed by a job at the RAND Corporation, a research organization set up by the US Air Force in 1948, to formulate policy on national security. There, Khalilzad founded its Center for Middle Eastern Studies and its journal Strategic Appraisal.

While at Rand, the future ambassador to Afghanistan acted as a liaison between UNOCAL (now Chevron), which was looking to build a pipeline through Afghanistan, and the Taliban, which, at the time, formed the government. Soon after, Khalilzad joined Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, and other neo-conservatives in the Project for a New American Century, a think thank that promotes an overt military imperialism under the rubric of “promoting American global leadership.”

As ambassador to occupied Afghanistan, Khalilzad was accused of scheming behind the scenes to favor Karzai –- Washington’s favored candidate – over other candidates in presidential elections. Khalilzad’s influence as ambassador was so strong, that Afghans nicknamed him ‘the Viceroy,” likening him (accurately) to a colonial governor. (5)

With Afghans strongly opposed to US domination, their opposition expressed in armed resistance and growing anger over civilian deaths caused by US military operations, Washington is trying to pull a veil over the influence it wields in the country. As former British ambassador Cowper-Coles warned, the West needs an acceptable dictator, someone who can execute US foreign policy goals from within the country, while at the same time claiming independence from the US government.

Khalilzad, as a private citizen with no current formal connection to the US government, offers Washington the prospect of plausible deniability that it is running the show in Afghanistan. If Khalilzad steps in as CEO, Washington can claim that day-to-day decisions are being made by a private citizen with no formal ties to the US government.

Even if Washington isn’t orchestrating Khalilzad’s consideration as CEO, we can be sure, given his background, that his administration of Afghanistan’s affairs would rest on the same principal Sir Evelyn Baring used to govern Egypt: that the interests of foreign bond holders and those of the natives are identical.

1. A.L. Morton, A People’s History of England, Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1938.
2. The New York Times, October 4, 2008.
3. The New York Times, May 19, 2009.
4. It is the practice in some circles to refer to countries as economies. Those of us who live in a G-8 country are advised to be proud of living in a G-8 economy. The idea of a chief executive officer of a country (as separate from the president, the chief of the executive of a republic) takes this idea one step further. A country now becomes, neither country nor economy, but a business.
5. The Los Angeles Times, September 23, 2004.

Written by what's left

May 21, 2009 at 10:36 pm

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