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Washington’s Neocon in Baghdad? Zalmay Khalilzad Nominated as U.S. Ambassador

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Zalmay Khalilzad, the current U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan prepares to head to Iraq. We look at his history from supporting the mujahadeen in the 1980s, his relationship to big oil and his role in the Project for the New American Century. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Antonia Juhasz with us from California, Larry Everest, as well, author of Oil, Power and Empire: Iraq and the US Global Agenda. Larry, you have been writing about Zalmay Khalilzad. Can you talk about the new US Ambassador to Iraq, formerly of Afghanistan?

LARRY EVEREST: Hi, Amy. Yeah, Zalmay Khalilzad has been a key player in both the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, and even more importantly and in some ways interestingly, of the global strategy that’s really shaped those wars and US actions since September 11, a global strategy of radically restructuring relations in service of greater US dominance around the world, so I feel his nomination as ambassador to Iraq really tells us two things. First, that the US, despite the resistance, despite the upheaval, the US remains bent on reshaping Iraq to serve its interests, not Iraqi interests. This is some of what Antonia was just referring to. Also, that creating this pro-US regime, a pro-US neo-colony, really, in Iraq remains central to broader US objectives in the region, and in the world, including restructuring the Middle East, opening it up to greater US investment, gaining greater control over world energy supplies, and let’s not forget militarily dominating potential rivals like Russia and China. It’s really fascinating to look at his career, because it opens a window onto the development of this whole grand strategy that’s become enshrined as the Bush Doctrine.

Khalilzad was born in Afghanistan, immigrated to the United States and first began working in the government in 1984, the State Department, under Paul Wolfowitz. He moved over to Defense under Dick Cheney and again Wolfowitz under the George H. W. Bush administration in 1988. And in 1992, he was the author of the first articulation of the strategy now in effect that the United States should prevent the rise of any rival powers. This was the so-called Defense Planning Guidance. This was a paper that also paid particular attention to making sure that the US controlled the Persian Gulf and its oil supplies there. So, we can see the genesis of the 2003 invasion over a decade earlier when he and the other neoconservatives in the Bush government were out of office, when Clinton took over, they spent the decades of the 1990s elaborating this vision of US global hegemony, of vociferously demanding more aggressive action around the world, as well as in Iraq and including the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, as you mentioned in your run-up. And one of the interesting things, he wrote a book in 1995, titled From Containment to Global Leadership, and this was really a brief for US global power to be extended all around the world. Very interesting, because he noted that in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse, the United States faced both opportunities and also potential dangers, including the rise of new rivals, the shifting of world economic strength toward Asia, and so on, and he called for decisive action to lock in US domination and argued this was an opportunity that the United States may never see again. And the other thing that’s interesting about the book is it makes clear that the Bush strategy is not simply directed against the states like Iran and Iraq and North Korea, but it’s also ultimately directed against other world powers, including Europe, Russia and China. So, this is really key to understanding the unfolding events, not just the two wars and occupations that we have seen, but also the growing tensions with Russia and China, Europe’s unhappiness with the 2003 war, and so on.

I should also add that in the 1990s Khalilzad was a consultant to Unocal, one of the oil giants at a time when Unocal was negotiating with the then Taliban government for rights to conduct a pipeline across that country. Of course, when George W. Bush took over in 2000, Khalilzad became quite prominent as a National Security Council member. He was a special assistant for Near East, Southwest Asia and North African Affairs. He was involved in planning the occupation and reshaping of Iraq well before the war. Right before that war, he became the emissary to the Iraqi exiles that the US hoped would eventually rule in Iraq. Plans have not turned out as they thought they would. He oversaw the first meeting of those exiles in April, 2003, in Iraq. Later that year, he was named ambassador to Afghanistan, where again he presided over US -efforts to try to solidify control over this very strategically located country. If you take the Middle East where Iraq lies and Central Asia where Afghanistan lies, that’s home to 80% of the world’s energy supplies, and of course, a militarily strategic area. And we’re just learning, the Financial Times just reported yesterday that it seems very likely that the US will be constructing a long term military base in Afghanistan, and we know that they have been considering similar bases in Iraq. So Khalilzad has been at the very center of the efforts to dominate and control the future of the Afghani and the Iraqi people, as well as this broader global agenda that these actions were part of.

AMY GOODMAN: Larry Everest, it’s interesting you mention he was a consultant for Unocal, and now ChevronTexaco in Iraq, and ChevronTexaco taking over Unocal.

LARRY EVEREST: Well, it is interesting, because one of the arguments for the takeover was that oil is in short supply, and the majors are having difficulty in finding enough oil reserves. In my book, I go into this at great length, but essentially one of the reasons for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was part of a multifaceted plan to gain more control over world oil supplies, which are not simply about fueling SUVs in the United States. Oil is a tremendous weapon of control and hegemony. He who controls oil controls both the world economy and those who depend on oil. So, these wars were an effort to both prevent rivals like Russia and China from gaining control over those supplies and also part of a long term strategy of opening these areas up to greater US investment in order to try to meet this growing gap between rising world oil demand and stagnating supply. So, oil, as you were mentioning, should be very much brought back into the conversation about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Larry Everest, I was just speaking with some Afghans last night who knew Zalmay Khalilzad and talked about going way back his also role in US policy around supporting the mujahadin in Afghanistan, the mujahadin who were fighting the Soviets and when the Soviet Union was out, set their sites on the United States.

LARRY EVEREST: That’s right. In the late 1980s he was part of a working group at the State Department that were the point people for building relations with the mujahadin, and of course, we know that that US and Soviet clash left a million Afghanis dead and the country devastated. And, of course, that was the period of time that the CIA did have contacts and cultivated Osama bin Laden. It’s also interesting what Khalilzad has done in Afghanistan during his tenure as ambassador. I mentioned laying the groundwork for having a permanent US military base there, but we should also note that opium production has soared in the country, that the country is still basically a coalition of various warlords, and that one of Khalilzad’s last acts in Afghanistan was to recommend that Abdul Rashid Dostum be recommended for a position in the government. Of course, it was Dostum’s militia that murdered hundreds of suspected Taliban fighters by locking them in shipping containers shortly after the US invasion there in 2001, an act of incredible brutality. There have also been reports that his forces have been driving ethnic Pashtuns from their villages and razing the villages and so on. So, this gives a sense of the kind of brutality that Khalilzad and the other members of the Bush administration are willing to bring to bear to advance these objectives we have been discussing this morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Larry Everest, the PNAC recommendations, Project for a New American Century, back under President Clinton, and Zalmay Khalilzad’s role in that?

LARRY EVEREST: Well, he signed the letter that you mentioned that called for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. This was an open letter to Bill Clinton in 1998, and while the foreign policy dispute was not the leading edge of the Clinton impeachment, it was certainly an element in this vociferous right wing campaign to get rid of Clinton. The right wing felt that Clinton was not acting aggressively enough around the world, was not seizing the moment to assert US hegemony as forcefully as it should. One of the interesting things about the letter that Khalilzad signed with a number of the other luminaries of the right wing was that it made no mention of the threat of terror whatsoever and only passing reference to the danger of weapons of mass destruction. The focus of the letter was that Saddam Hussein’s continued existence, his continued rule, was threatening US dominance in the Middle East, and that action was needed in order to strengthen Israel, to strengthen US-Arab allies and to insure US control of Persian Gulf oil supply. So, these were the real motives of the 2003 invasion. Studying Khalilzad and getting into this whole global agenda that he has been such a key part of articulating and developing really, really points to the true motives for that 2003 war, a war as I mentioned that was a decade in the making.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Larry Everest, you talked about Paul Wolfowitz. Now he heads up the World Bank, Zalmay Khalilzad nominated to be the ambassador to Iraq. What about Wolfowitz, and the significance of this new position?

LARRY EVEREST: Well, I feel that you can look at Khalilzad’s nomination, Wolfowitz’s nomination and Bolton’s nomination all as a piece. They represent, I feel, the desire by the Bush government not to be restrained in its second term, but to more aggressively push forward this effort to really, and particularly with Wolfowitz and Bolton, it’s an effort to really lower the status of Europe, Japan, Russia and other potential competitors to a more second tier subordinate status. I think the US was, of course, very upset that France and Russia didn’t rubberstamp the war in Iraq. There’s concerns about the World Bank and its role in — for example, one thing that could be an outcome of Wolfowitz’s nomination is approving a US-driven privatization and funding of US projects in Iraq. So again, I see these as steps, all of a piece in the sense of very aggressively pushing forward this agenda. We have got to be clear that these actions are very likely to lead to further conflict and suffering in many parts of the world, as well as the potential for tremendous upheaval and resistance as these plans unfold.

AMY GOODMAN: Larry Everest, I want to thank you for being with us, author of Oil, Power and Empire: Iraq and the US Global Agenda, writes for the Revolutionary Worker. Antonia Juhasz, author and activist speaking to us from California, and Dilip Hiro, author of, Secrets and Lies: Operation Iraqi Freedom and After.

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