American Ambassador to Iraq Khalilzad wins high praise for his work in trying to bring a stable government to Iraq and end the religious strife (or civil war, depending on your viewpoint) there. As an American from a family that has been in America for several generations, I always thought that the US should give some sort of favoritism to native-born Americans, because immigrants or first generation Americans often have an advantage in that they know the language and culture of their country of origin well, which is important. But it is also important to know the US well. I worry that intimate knowledge of the US is something that is does not show up as well in testing as language proficiency does. In addition, most immigrants left their home countries for some reason, which means that they do not share some important values with the citizens of their home country who did not leave. This was often on view during the Cold War, when many of the most virulently anti-Russian policymakers were of Russian extraction.
Born in Afghanistan, Khalilzad is, according to Juan Cole (who was just on PBS), “an Afghan Pushtun of Sunni extraction.” I think that because of this, he may be viewed with suspicion by Shiite Muslims, who are the leaders in forming a new government in Iraq. In looking for confirmation that Khalilzad is of Sunni extraction, I found a somewhat questionable website says that Khalilzad’s wife, Cheryl Benard, is an Austrian who works for the Rand Corporation, whom he met at the University of Chicago while they were studying under leading neo-con Albert Wohlstetter.
The fact that Khalilzad was born a Sunni Muslim, but that one of the main influences on his thinking was Wohlstetter, a Jew at Chicago who influenced many of the Jewish neo-cons, including Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, has got to be confusing. Maybe it shows religion doesn’t matter. Or maybe it shows that there is nobody as radical as a convert to a new religion (or a new political philosophy).