According to news reports, the Obama administration is once again reevaluating how to deal with Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai out of fear that it may now be holding him to unrealistic standards of U.S. law enforcement. This comes after a summer of news that Karzai continues to find new ways of resisting Washington’s efforts to rein in rampant corruption in his government. Now we hear from legendary Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that the U.S. has intelligence showing Hamid Karzai is under medication for manic depression and that Obama’s national security team doubts that “his strategy in Afghanistan” (whatever that may be at the moment) can work. The tug of war between Kabul and Washington has become so desperate, former CIA Near East, South Asia Chief Dr. Charles Cogan recently opined that the situation was fast approaching a “Diem Moment.” Cogan even suggested that while Diem’s removal had been “horribly botched,” “a removal of Mr. Karzai might turn out to be more straightforward.” Given the similarities to America’s quagmire in Vietnam, invoking Diem raises more than a few dark memories. Yet despite vast differences in the two wars another even more deeply unsettling similarity is emerging. Hamid Karzai is in a political fight for his life like South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem. But (strange as it might seem) his contradictory behavior and the chaos and corruption surrounding it may be no accident. In fact it could be exactly the consequence that his main neoconservative backer, former RAND director, U.S. Ambassador and Special Presidential Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, had long intended.
According to Thomas Ruttig, a United Nations official present at the mid-2002 Kabul Loya Jirga that installed Karzai, “Khalilzad was the driving force behind THE mistake committed in the post-Taleban period that basically and fundamentally undermined the – possible! – emergence of a stable Afghanistan by bringing in the warlords again and allowing them unrestricted access to the new institutions… Re-empowered militarily and politically, the warlords expanded the realms of their power into the economy. With their [U.S. Special Forces] Alpha Team seed capital they took over that part of the economy that matters in Afghanistan, the poppy and heroin business. With the profits from this they expanded into what remains of the licit economy: import of luxury goods, cars, spare parts, fuel and cooking gas [and] real estate often by occupying government-owned land…”
When asked in the spring of 2010 whether Khalilzad should be invited back to assist the Obama administration, former Special Assistant to President Reagan, Reagan-Doctrine Architect and honorary Afghan “Freedom Fighter,” California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher told Huffpost interviewer Michael Hughes, “He [Khalilzad] oversaw the establishment of a government that was unable to function in Afghan society. And on top of that he browbeat people into accepting Karzai. He even browbeat the ex-King of Afghanistan Zahir Shah into accepting him. Khalilzad was not in the anti-Taliban camp in the 1990’s, so why the hell would we bring him in now? By forcing Karzai into office, Khalilzad snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory because the Taliban were beaten at that point.”
To both Ruttig and Rohrabacher, Khalilzad’s ultimate crime – like the U.S. manipulation of the Ngo Dinh Diem regime in Vietnam – was that his corruption of the Karzai regime had created so much internal chaos that no amount of outside effort could undo it. Yet the idea that chaos, as a form of extreme social engineering, may have actually been the plan cannot be ignored.
If anyone embodies the Cold War neoconservative philosophy that came to dominate American foreign and military policy from Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush, it is Zalmay Khalilzad. Khalilzad first came to the United States as a high school exchange student.
He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from American University in Beirut and his doctorate degree from the University of Chicago where he met and studied along with Paul Wolfowitz under the RAND nuclear warfare theorist, former Trotskyite and father of neoconservatism, Albert J. Wohlstetter. It was Wohlstetter’s early 1970s series of articles in the Wall Street Journal and Strategic Review that prompted the politicized CIA analysis known as the Team B experiment. It was the Team B’s adherents both inside and outside the Carter administration who set the stage for undermining détente and luring the Soviets into the Afghan trap and holding them there while Afghanistan disintegrated. And it was the same Team B brain-trust of Wohlstetter acolytes including Khalilzad that went on to provide the philosophical template for the politicized intelligence process that led to the strategic military disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan.
In her 1972 book about Vietnam, Fire in the Lake, author Frances FitzGerald wrote of the perverse illogic of another of Wohlstetter’s onetime RAND protégés, Herman Kahn.
“Just before his departure for a two-week tour of Vietnam in 1967, the defense analyst, Herman Kahn, listened to an American businessman give a detailed account of the economic situation in South Vietnam. At the end of the talk – an argument for reducing the war – Kahn said, ‘I see what you mean. We have corrupted the cities. Now, perhaps we can corrupt the countryside as well.’ It was not a joke. Kahn was thinking in terms of a counterinsurgency program: the United States would win the war by making all Vietnamese economically dependent upon it. In 1967 his program was already becoming a reality, for the corruption reached even to the lowest levels of Vietnamese society.”
In a country as poor as Afghanistan after three decades of war it took little time and less effort to corrupt every level of Afghan society, but in Afghanistan, official corruption, both American and Afghan was built in. Overseen by Khalilzad, a bizarre marriage of America’s pro-business, neoconservative Washington and Afghanistan’s pro-business and often pro-Taliban right wing took root to direct and guide Afghanistan’s reconstruction.
A 2007 report by Canadian journalist Arthur Kent described the DNA that coursed through the bloodstream of the Bush administration’s Afghan agenda. Kent writes, “Within Khalilzad’s makeshift provisional authority in Kabul, he championed a creation called the Afghanistan Reconstruction Group. ARG, achieved two cherished goals for the administration: putting a select group of loyal American and Afghan-American business hawks in charge of US-funded development projects; and doing so while completely bypassing the State Department.”
Outside the boundaries of normal oversight procedures while under the auspices of Donald Rumsfeld’s office at the Pentagon, ARG became a watering hole of high priced contracts for well-placed friends of the Bush administration. In 2005, when Khalilzad’s successor, career diplomat Ronald Neuman tried to break up ARG and return contracting to the State Department, Khalilzad arranged for a “political audit.” The result was Neuman’s replacement by the White House.
In a U.S. Congressional report published in June 2010 titled Warlord, Inc., and the White House Murder INC,....Representative John F. Tierney’s Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs painted a sordid picture of the chaos, deception and corruption in Afghanistan, IRAQ, LEBANON and beyond to Darfur..... that now stands as the legacy of America’s neoconservative brain trust. But given the history of America’s covert and overt involvement in Afghanistan, none of this should have come as a surprise. The U.S. fostered destabilization of Afghanistan’s governments in the 1970s, backed Pakistan’s ISI and their Islamist protégés, lured the Soviets to defeat and watched as the country descended into anarchy. It then hatched a Frankenstein movement called the Taliban together with the ISI – all the while pretending it was indigenous to Afghanistan. After 2001 it then allowed the movement to regroup and grow stronger as they slaughtered moderate Pashtuns and claimed the mantle of Pashtun nationalism for themselves. Whatever the future holds for Hamid Karzai, President Obama’s AfPak war was built upon a chaos, designed and programmed from its inception by the highest intellectual circles in the United States. As his administration approaches another winter trying to resolve it, it might as well face up to the fact that whether it likes it or not, it is getting exactly the chaos that it asked for.