Will Khalilzad Save the Day?

There’s an interesting article in the Los Angeles Times today about soon-to-be-ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad’s secret plan to save Iraq. Khalilzad did a tremendous job in Afghanistan, so there’s some reason for optimism here, but it’s very much worth noting that one of the reasons he was so effective in Afghanistan was that Hamid Karzai—who is, apparently, exceedingly indecisive—needed someone to run his life for him, and found Khalilzad. Indeed, judging from Jon Lee Anderson’s latest and not-online New Yorker article on Karzai, it seems the Afghanistan president couldn’t do very much without Khalilzad holding his hand, which may have been one of the reasons why the latter needed to be moved out of the country. (According to Anderson, it got to the point where Khalilzad was the practically the guy removing regional governors from their posts.)

Meanwhile, the current Iraqi prime minister, Ibrahim Jaaferi, also appears fairly indecisive, but it’s pretty unlikely that he’s going to fling himself into Khalilzad’s arms at the first sign of trouble. The main task, it seems, will be for the new ambassador to smooth over any tension between the U.S. military and Jaaferi’s government, which understandably tends to get upset that it doesn’t get to act like a sovereign nation. (Although, as Spencer Ackerman writes, the Jaaferi government is probably going to have to pretend to hate the occupation in order to give itself political cover for keeping the United States in the country.) Nevertheless, that’s a relatively minor point. On more substantial issues—bringing the Sunni minority into the political process, for instance—it’s not clear that Khalilzad will have the same sway in Iraq as he did in Afghanistan. At this point there’s not a whole lot we can force the Shiite government to do.