Ambassador at the Ath

Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad, former US ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, spoke at the Athenaeum on February 22. Dr. Khalilzad, who also worked as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations from 2007 to 2009, has received three Distinguished Public Service Medals during the course of his career, and currently acts as the President and CEO of his own advisory firm, Khalilzad Associates. While discussing the past and future of the current conflict in Afghanistan, Dr. Khalilzad pointed out some of the lessons students might be able to glean from the challenges faced by coalition forces.

He began his talk by pointing out some of the major obstacles to the success of the current Afghan government such as “extremism,” nuclear proliferation, specifically the “danger [of] expanding Pakistani stockpiles falling into the wrong hands,” and the conflicting interests of the many countries surrounding Afghanistan.

Still, he emphasized, a number of important gains have been made. He pointed out that “additional troops have improved security,” and that Afghan security forces have dramatically increased. In addition, since 2002, the GDP of Afghanistan has increased from $200 million to $1.8 billion, the number of cell phones in use has increased from virtually none to more than twelve million, and the number of children attending school has increased from 900,000 to 6.2 million. As a result, Khalilzad hopes that a “transfer of security leadership will take place in 2014.” However, he emphasizes, “we are not on the verge of getting rid of terrorism in this region.”

As always, the Athenaeum provided an excellent atmosphere for the presentation, with a good dinner and plenty of hot chocolate. Dr. Khalilzad demonstrated his great knowledge and personal experience in America’s foreign policy in the Middle East, speaking frankly and clearly about the problems facing Afghanistan in the future.

When asked what lessons students with potential futures in international relations and government can learn from the Afghanistan conflict, Khalilzad highlighted the importance of diplomacy. He explained that while “military has an important role … when it comes to politics and governance, skills to effectively assist in those areas are equally important ...If the only instrument is a hammer, pretty soon everything looks like nails.”