As an American who was in the Foreign Service and whose ancestors lived in the US for several generations, I am usually skeptical of immigrants or first generation Americans who become American foreign affairs officials. Zalmay Khalilzad, the current US Ambassador to Iraq, fits that description. He was born in Afghanistan and has spent much of his career working on Afghan matters, including serving as US Ambassador to Afghanistan before he was Ambassador to Iraq.

There were a number of Soviet emigres who worked on US-Soviet relations in the bad old days of the Cold War. In most cases they were virulently anti-Soviet, which is understandable, since they had hated their native country strongly enough to leave it and come to America. Over the years, a number of wealthy businessmen have paid large political contributions to get an ambassadorial appointment back to the “old country” they came from. That’s fine, but can people who leave their own country be objective about the best policies toward it for the US? They should get to know America first, and let their grandchildren work on foreign policy. It’s probably okay for them to work in some second-tier role, in academia perhaps, writing articles about foreign policy, or working at the RAND Corporation (as Khalilzad did early on) or some other think tank in a consulting capacity much like at a university. But actually formulating US policy should be left with people who grew up in the US — for whom there should be no doubt where their loyalties lie. In the old days such newcomers had trouble getting security clearances necessary to work on foreign policy, but it doesn’t seem to be a problem today.

Secondly, there are some problems with sending people back to their home countries (or nearby) as representatives of the United States. People there either love them or hate them, but their opinions are often formed not because of the policies they pursue, but because of opinions about them personally in their native lands. Do the Iraqis see Khalilzad as an American or an Afghan? Certainly he speaks for the US, they probably do not see him exactly as they saw John Negroponte, who is of recent Greek ancestry, but at least not an immigrant.

What about Khalilzad’s policy recommendations? He had a lot of input on the new Iraqi constitution, but seems to have caved on issues such as the role of Islamic law in the new Iraq and the way women are treated. Is that because it’s the best course of action for the US, or is he just used to Islamic law and a subordinate role for women?

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