Zalmay Khalilzad: Empire Builder Moves to Iraq

by Larry Everest

Revolutionary Worker #1273, April 3, 2005, posted at

Who is Zalmay Khalilzad? And what does George W. Bush's nomination of Khalilzad as the U.S. ambassador to Iraq (to replace John Negroponte, who Bush nominated as Director of National Intelligence) tell us about the direction of the Bush global agenda?

Khalilzad's story—from aide to Paul Wolfowitz in the 1980s, to neocon theorist in the 1990s, to top official under George W. Bush—is the story of the rise of a group of imperialist strategists with a sordid history drenched in blood, determined to solidify, deepen and extend U.S. global dominance by any means necessary. Theirs is a coherent strategy that is now driving the global actions of the Bush II regime. Understanding this agenda is key to understanding the real reasons behind the 2003 invasion of Iraq (hint—it wasn't Sept. 11 or "terrorism") and the rapidly unfolding events in the Middle East, including U.S. threats against Iran and Syria and demands for "reform" in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well as U.S. actions across the globe.

Khalilzad's nomination (he must now be confirmed by the Senate) highlights both the centrality of Iraq to that agenda and the U.S. imperialists' determination to press forward with their global plans, despite enormous difficulties in Iraq and the potential for even greater upheaval in the future. For them, their system's place in the world and its long-term survival are at stake.

Khalilzad is considered a protégé of Wolfowitz and Vice President Dick Cheney. Born in Afghanistan, he emigrated to the U.S. and was educated at the University of Chicago (a hotbed of Straussian theory). In 1984 he began working in the State Department during the Reagan administration under the notorious war hawk Wolfowitz. During this period, Khalilzad helped organize the arming of Afghan mujahedeen forces—including Osama bin Laden—who were waging war against the Soviet Union, then the U.S.'s main imperialist rival, which had invaded Afghanistan in 1979. As a result of the Soviet invasion and subsequent U.S.- fueled war, more than a million Afghans were killed, a third of the Afghan population was driven into refugee camps, and Afghanistan was left in ruins.

Visions of Global Hegemony: the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance

After the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, the Bush Sr. administration began to formulate a global strategy to maintain the U.S.'s status as the world's sole imperialist superpower. This was first articulated in a 1992 "Defense Planning Guidance," which was drafted by Khalilzad under the leadership of Wolfowitz and then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.

The Defense Guidance called for the U.S. to ensure, as the New York Times reported, "that no rival superpower is allowed to emerge in Western Europe, Asia or the territory of the former Soviet Union." The Defense Guidance called this the "dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power. These regions include Western Europe, East Asia, the territory of the former Soviet Union, and Southwest Asia."

The strategy paper also placed special emphasis on the Persian Gulf and the surrounding region: "In the Middle East and Southwest Asia, our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in the region and preserve U.S. and Western access to the region's oil." The Guidance envisioned accomplishing these far-reaching objectives by preemptively attacking rivals or states seeking weapons of mass destruction, strengthening U.S. control of Persian Gulf oil, and refusing to allow international coalitions or law to inhibit U.S. freedom of action.

James Mann's book Rise of the Vulcans—The History of Bush's War Cabinet gives a flavor for the sorts of debates that were taking place within these ruling class circles at the time. According to Mann, Lewis Libby (another Defense Department official and now Cheney's top assistant) felt Khalilzad's draft position paper didn't go far enough. In Lewis's view, preventing the rise of rivals wasn't enough—instead, the goal should be to make the U.S. so powerful that none would even consider challenging it (pp. 208-215).

"From Containment to Global Leadership"

When Bill Clinton became president in 1992, Khalilzad and his cohorts were turned out of office, but they didn't stop campaigning for a more aggressive U.S. global posture (and for military action against Iraq). Called "neo-conservatives" or "neocons," they worked through a host of right-wing think tanks and prominent publications like the Wall Street Journal and the media monopolist Rupert Murdoch-funded Weekly Standard . Over the decade, they churned out a stream of commentaries, strategy papers, articles, and books—and helped organize the effort to oust Clinton.

In the eyes of Cheney, Wolfowitz, Khalilzad, and others, things were drifting in the wrong direction and Clinton and his team were frittering away American preeminence. They felt, as Bob Avakian put it, that the U.S. "didn't really take advantage of the victory in the Cold War. We didn't `roll up' the whole world the way we could have, and should have.' "1

In 1995 Khalilzad spelled all this out in his brief for U.S. global hegemony— From Containment to Global Leadership . His book stressed that the U.S. faced both opportunities— and new dangers— following the Soviet collapse and that it had to act decisively to solidify and extend its empire all over the world.

Among the new dangers confronting the U.S. imperialists, Khalilzad included the potential for "major regional conflicts, attempts at regional hegemony, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," as well as "chaos and fragmentation within states" and possibilities ranging from a "growing number of small wars" to "Russian reimperialization and Chinese expansionism." Khalilzad noted that "economic growth under way in Asia...will produce important changes in relative economic power—with important potential geopolitical and military implications" and "intensified international economic competition."2 Khalilzad called China "the most likely candidate" for global rival. "Over the longer term—the next twenty years—there is a real possibility of efforts by China or Russia or a coalition of states to balance the power of the United States and its allies."3

Khalilzad complained that "Despite efforts by both the Bush [I] and Clinton grand strategy has yet jelled and there is no consensus on overarching national security objectives. It appears that the country is still trying to get its strategic bearings." There was no "unifying concept" in the Clinton global vision, Khalilzad wrote, and its strategy "does not deal with some of the tough issues.... It also does not provide a clear sense of priorities."

Khalilzad argued that the U.S. should focus on preventing others from having "hegemony over critical regions," including the Persian Gulf. He concluded: "The United States should also resolve to maintain its position of global leadership and preclude the rise of another global rival for the indefinite future. It is an opportunity the nation may never see again."4

Targeting Iraq—Years Before Sept. 11

While demanding more aggressive action globally, Khalilzad and other neocons were also demanding more forceful action against Iraq. In 1998, for instance, the Project for a New American Century published an open letter to Clinton warning, "The policy of `containment' of Saddam Hussein has been steadily eroding," and "we can no longer depend on our partners in the Gulf War coalition to continue to uphold the sanctions." These developments endanger "our friends and allies like Israel and the moderate Arab states, and a significant portion of the world's supply of oil." The letter—which raised the specter of Iraqi acquisition of "weapons of mass destruction" but made no mention of "terrorism"—concluded that the "only acceptable strategy" was "removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. That now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy." The letter was signed by Khalilzad and other prominent right-wing strategists, many of whom would become top officials in the Bush II administration.

During the 1990s, Khalilzad was also a consultant to UNOCAL—one of the world's largest oil companies—when UNOCAL was trying to negotiate with the Taliban government for rights to build an oil pipeline through Afghanistan. During this period Khalilzad publicly defended the Taliban regime. UNOCAL is notorious for supporting and doing business with brutal reactionary regimes. For instance, in 1997 Burmese refugees sued UNOCAL for human rights abuses carried out by the Burmese military hired by UNOCAL to protect its operations.

Major Player in the Bush II Regime

As soon as he took office in 2000, George Bush packed his administration with the strategists of more hegemonic U.S. global predominance. Khalilzad became a member of the Bush National Security Council staff as Special Assistant to the President for Near East, South West Asian, and North African Affairs. Shortly before the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, he was made emissary to the Iraqi opposition—the pro-U.S. exile forces (such as Ahmad Chalabi) that the U.S. hoped to install in power.

In November 2003 Khalilzad assumed his position as ambassador to Afghanistan, where he presided over U.S. efforts to solidify its control of this strategically located country—an effort he described as developing a long-term military and economic "partnership" between the two countries. (Just what this "partnership" means was recently illustrated by U.S. Joints Chiefs of Staff Chair General Myers, who revealed that the U.S. was considering establishing long-term military bases in Afghanistan.)

During Khalilzad's tenure in Afghanistan, opium and heroin production skyrocketed. (In December 2004, a secret U.S. military report stated that opium production would continue to increase, strengthening the power of warlords.) And the U.S. stage-managed an election to keep its favorite, Hamid Karzai, in power. One of Khalilzad's last acts as ambassador to Afghanistan was to support giving a government post to the notorious warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum. Dostum's militia was responsible for suffocating hundreds of suspected Taliban supporters by locking them in metal shipping containers and for driving ethnic Pashtuns, many of whom backed the Taliban, from their villages.

Dispatching Khalilzad to Baghdad—here what is planned to be the largest U.S. embassy in the world is being built—underscores the continuing centrality of the conquest of Iraq for U.S. global plans. And his nomination, along with Bush's nominations of hardline neocons John Bolton (as UN ambassador) and Paul Wolfowitz (as the head of the World Bank), highlight the rulers' determination to push forward with their war on the world for greater empire. The prognosis: more U.S. aggression around the world—on many different fronts—and heightened potential for both massive suffering and great economic, social and political upheaval.

Larry Everest is the author of Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda
(Common Courage Press, 2004). Much of the material in this article is taken from that book.


1Avakian, "New Situations and Great Challenges," Revolutionary Worker, March 17, 2002.

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2Zalmay M. Khalilzad, From Containment to Global Leadership (Santa Monica, CA: Rand, 1995), 7-8.

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3Khalilzad, From Containment to Global Leadership, 30, 7.

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4Khalilzad, From Containment to Global Leadership , 6-11, 22.

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