Envoy Khalilzad’s knack for being in room while history was written


One of the most intriguing individuals to play a leading role in the Bush-era wars is Zalmay Khalilzad, a polished diplomat who was the most senior Muslim in the White House at the time of the 9/11 attacks, and who has now published his own memoir, The Envoy, the FT’s Geoff Dyer writes:

Born in northern Afghanistan, the son of a local official, Khalilzad rose to be US ambassador in both his home country and in Iraq following the occupation, a time when the role was more viceroy than envoy. … Yet it was only with 9/11 that “Zal” became an indispensable member of the administration. “I was the highest-ranking Afghan-American and Muslim-American at the White House,” he writes, although it took a while for the significance of his background to sink in. [Paul] Wolfowitz later admitted: “We were a week into this crisis before it hit me that Zal was from Afghanistan.”

Khalilzad’s memoir shows that he had a knack for being in the room while history was being written, the New York Post adds:

In 1979, for instance, he met with the Ayatollah Khomeini, then the leader of the Iranian opposition while living in exile in Paris. The sinister nature of the cleric’s intentions immediately became clear. The ayatollah didn’t know that Khalilzad, a young academic at Columbia University whose writings were just beginning to attract notice in Washington, understood Persian when an aide told him in that language, “Tell the American professor that we want democracy and rights for women — this is what Americans like to hear.”

Khalilzad recalls, “I came away perturbed. I realized that Khomeini had a clear set of totalitarian ideas and an intricate plan to implement them.”

Iran’s Islamic Republic wanted to create a client state of newly-liberated Iraq, the memoir reveals.

The George W. Bush administration indirectly cooperated with a powerful Iranian spymaster in 2006 to unseat then-Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Khalilzad said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal:

The American envoy and other U.S. officials believed then that Mr. Jaafari lacked the ability to tame sectarian tensions that ravaged Iraq following the overthrow in 2003 of Sunni strongman Saddam Hussein. Mr. Khalilzad said Iraqi politicians informed him that Tehran shared this sentiment and was dispatching the head of its overseas military unit, the Qods Force, to Baghdad to press Mr. Jaafari to step aside.

That commander, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, is viewed by the Pentagon as perhaps the most powerful officer inside Iran’s military and intelligence services. He is also in charge of Iran’s overall policy toward Iraq.

Mr. Khalilzad said he instructed U.S. and Iraqi forces that April to allow Gen. Soleimani to enter the American-controlled Green Zone to deliver the news to the Iraqi politician. Mr. Jaafari was replaced later that year by Nouri al-Maliki…… “I learned that Soleimani had been ranting about me,” Mr. Khalilzad writes. “‘Khalilzad is singularly the worst person in the world,’ he said, noting that he ‘personally wanted to come to Iraq and kill this Khalilzad.’”

According to the former US ambassador to Iraq, the U.S. and Iran agreed that the Dawa party would spearhead the political operation in Iraq, notes one account:

During the 13 years of this party’s rule, it managed to record the worst failure in the history of the successive governments in Iraq since the establishment of the Iraqi Kingdom in 1921. It is not difficult to list the series of failures the party achieved, as the party and its leaders siphoned over $800 billion since 2003, and corruption become synonymous with Iraq, which was at the top of the list of the most corrupt countries throughout the rule of the Dawa party. The party also lost half of Iraq’s land to Daesh. I would also like to stress that it has been irrefutably proven that the Dawa party continues to practice armed opposition while in power.

The National Endowment for Democracy is delighted to welcome Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the United Nations and a member of the NED Board, to discuss his new book, The Envoy: From Kabul to the White House, My Journey Through a Turbulent World. The memoir, which spans Khalilzad’s early life in Afghanistan through his service as a policymaker in three U.S. administrations, offers rare insights and a unique perspective on the challenging years since 2001. Khalilzad also provides a valuable lens for gauging the best path forward for the U.S., especially in the troubled countries of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Joining Ambassador Khalilzad to discuss the memoir and its historical and contemporary relevance will be NED Senior Director for the Middle East and North Africa Laith Kubba and Ambassador James Dobbins, a senior fellow and Distinguished Chair in Diplomacy and Security at the RAND Corporation. NED President Carl Gershman will moderate.


A light reception will follow the discussion. Books will be available for sale and signing.

All cameras and media must register with NED public affairs.

Please email press@ned.org to register as a member of the press.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email