Our Man in Baghdad

On Monday, Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, gave a press conference (excerpts below) at the State Department outlining developments and progress in that country. Ambassador Khalilzad’s statements were notable not only for the preposterous claim that Iraq is as monumental a challenge to us as the Soviet threat was, or even more ludicrously equating our mission in Iraq with our mission in World War II, but also for his stern threat to Syria that they better shape up or else. (The ambassador also told reporters that in Iraq we are learning to crawl, walk and run at the same time. I don’t remember anybody from the administration telling Congress or the American people that we’re going into Iraq to learn how to crawl, walk and run at the same time, do you? Sure Mr. President, we’ll give you the authority to invade Iraq so that we can learn to crawl, walk and run, perhaps even chew gum too, at the same time.)

The reporters, rather than question his WW2 analogy or Soviet analogy, (umm, with all due respect, Mr. Ambassador, the Soviets were equipped with ICBMs locked on Washington and New York, and there is the small issue of Hitler attacking Europe, exterminating the Jews and his allies the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor; but never mind), questioned Khalilzad about Syria, and he repeated the Administration’s favorite new line when it comes to our supposed enemies: “all options are on the table”. Sorry Mr. Ambassador, I don’t think the line works anymore. There may have been a time when U.S. threats were meaningful, but they sure aren’t now. The Iranian response to the same threat issued by President Bush some months ago was to laugh it off, or more recently in the wake of “not all options are on the table” Katrina, to threaten right back. Perhaps the administration may want to start engaging in some diplomacy (what one assumes is an ambassador’s actual job). If we want Syria’s help (or even Iran’s help) in pacifying Iraq, then berating them in public and issuing threats is hardly the way to bring them around, particularly since most of the world, if not most Americans, have seen that the emperor (along with many of his subjects on the Gulf Coast) has no clothes.

Special Briefing
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
September 12, 2005

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad on Reconstruction Efforts

(11:15 a.m. EST)

MR. ERELI: Welcome, everybody. We have the pleasure today to welcome our Ambassador to Iraq, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad who is here to brief us on developments in Iraq, his tenure there so far, progress that we've made and where he sees things going. So without further ado, we have Ambassador Khalilzad. Thank you.

AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: Thank you very much. As you know, I'm here to accompany
President Talabani on his visit to Washington. And I have been in Iraq for
about five or six weeks before then. What I'd like to do is to make four points and then I'll take your questions.

Point one is that what's at stake in Iraq is extremely important. Iraq is the
centerpiece of the defining challenge of our time. During the Soviet era,
Soviet Communism was a defining challenge of our time; now it's terrorism and
extremism that's the defining challenge of our time and Iraq is at the very
center of it. And there's a huge struggle going on there. It's not only a
struggle for Iraq itself, people of different regions, but also regional forces
are involved in Iraq in order to shape and determine the outcome. And what
happens there will affect us all, because Iraq itself is very important. It's a
rich country, you know, in terms of oil, in terms of water, in terms of land,
in terms of people, the numbers of people, the education level of the people,
their sophistication.

But also Iraq is part of this region that we call a vital part of the world. So
therefore, what happens in Iraq will affect the region. And what will happen in
that region will affect us all. We are all very dependant on the region. If
people like Zarqawi were to dominate Iraq, it will make Afghanistan under the
Taliban look like a picnic, given the resources of Iraq -- given the resources
of Iraq, the location of Iraq. So the American public needs to know that what's
involved here is huge, as what we did with the Soviet Union was huge and what
we did in World War II was huge -- point one.

Point two, that we're making progress in terms of our goals. What are our goals
in Iraq? We want a democratic Iraq. We want a unified Iraq. We want a
self-reliant Iraq, an Iraq that can look after its own security, and an Iraq
that's prosperous and it's a successful country, that's a model for the broader
transformation that's absolutely necessary of this region. It will take a long
time. It will take a long time to do. Transforming regions, such as the Middle
East, is not easy, but it's absolutely necessary. It's a region of the world
that's producing most of the security problems of this era, and, therefore, we
need to deal with it. And the way to deal with it is to get Iraq right, first,
as we work on other problems of the region, too. Whether it's Israel-Palestine,
whether it's Lebanon, whether it's other problems of the region, we need to
shape the region environment towards positive change and Iraq is very

..........One key other factor that links to the initial point that I made with regard to
security is the role of external players, particularly Syria. People are coming
out from Syria to Iraq. People are coming from other parts of the region to
Syria, whether it's to Damascus or whether it's to Latakia, whether it's to
Aleppo, and then from there, they come to Iraq to kill Iraqis. The vision of
these people, the Zarqawi people, for Iraq is not a democratic, unified,
self-reliant, successful Iraq. It's an Iraq that's very much what we saw in
Afghanistan under the Taliban -- an Islamic caliphate with a dark vision to
take the region back, where women will not have the right to vote, where there
will be no democracy, where there will be a center of international terror in a
rich, powerful country. That's their vision. And Syria is allowing forces to
advocate that, who want to prevent Iraq from succeeding to come across.

Our patience is running out with Syria. They need to decide: Are they going to
be with a successful Iraq or are they going to be an obstacle to the success of
Iraq? Iraq will succeed. Iraq will succeed. Syria has to decide what price it's
willing to pay in making Iraq success difficult. And time is running out for
Damascus to decide on this issue.....

......On my final point, Iraq is going through a difficult transition, it's clear.
It's a difficult transition because, you know, change in authoritarian regime......We are, in Iraq, learning how to crawl, walk and run at the same time.
We're doing multiple things simultaneously that ordinarily would take -- be
done sequentially over a very extensive period of time.

We're making progress but there are significant challenges that remain. I
believe we have a good plan for how to proceed, and we need to stick with it
and resource it. With that, I'd be glad to take questions that you might have.