He Won't Have Paris -- at Least Not This Time

By Al Kamen
Friday, June 13, 2008

Everyone who's anyone is gathering in Paris these days for the big international donors conference on Afghanistan. Laura Bush was there for the opening yesterday. Her husband arrives late tonight. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other senior State Department officials, joined by delegates from 65 other countries and 15 international organizations, will be on hand.

The administration hopes to keep big-donor countries focused on Afghanistan's needs and to ensure it remains a priority as it struggles to develop and to rebuff the Taliban insurgency.

So with all those powerful folks getting together to talk about Afghanistan, it's only natural that our ambassador to the United Nations, Afghan-born Zalmay Khalilzad, should want to be there. But, surely due to a clerical error, we hear Khalilzad, oft-rumored as a potential presidential candidate in Afghanistan next year, wasn't on the list to be part of the U.S. delegation.

Word is Khalilzad let it be known that he wanted to go but that folks at Foggy Bottom, maybe including Rice herself, felt this wouldn't do. Might be the thinking was that the gregarious Khalilzad's presence in Paris would detract from the efforts of the current -- and beleaguered -- president, Hamid Karzai.

Or it might be that the top brass is concerned by the constant, and lately intensifying, speculation that Khalilzad will soon quit his U.N. gig to run against Karzai.

Karzai's standing in the country, tarnished by widespread government corruption, has dropped, and outside backers are doubting his effectiveness in battling the Taliban.

Former U.N. ambassador Rich ard Holbrooke, asked at a symposium last month whether the United States would back Karzai for a third term, said he is very much liked by the current administration. "The official answer is, we won't support anyone," he said, wryly adding, "Although one member of the U.S. government, I would note, is a possible candidate.

"He came to the Asia Society and vigorously denied that he was a candidate, so everyone assumed that he was," Holbrooke joked, drawing a chuckle from the crowd. But the question of supporting Karzai will be "a huge issue for the next president."

Khalilzad, who was U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan after the Taliban was routed in 2001, has consistently said he's not running -- though perhaps not in the Shermanesque formulation used most recently by Ohio Gov. Ted Strick land to rule out being Barack Obama's running mate.

For example, he told Afghanistan's Ariana Television Network in April that "I have said earlier that I'm not a candidate for any position in Afghanistan, but I am at the service of the Afghan people." That huge trial balloon has never stopped orbiting the earth.

And an article Sunday in the Independent, a British newspaper, said that "representatives of Mr. Khalilzad . . . have discreetly sounded out various factions to ascertain his chances." The article, written from Kabul, said that "many Afghan commentators say he would enjoy a high degree of support."

The article said that "three meetings have been held with opposition groups in recent months to promote" him as a "unifying" candidate. Khalilzad is from southeastern Afghanistan and, like Karzai, is of the increasingly disaffected Pashtun majority. But Khalilzad was raised in Mazar-e Sharif in the north and was said to be on good terms with the former leadership of the non-Pashtun Northern Alliance.

Of course there's that 1997 Washington Post op-ed he wrote saying that "the Taliban do not practice the anti-U.S. style of fundamentalism practiced by Iran" and that "we should be willing to offer recognition and humanitarian assistance" and development aid.

In any event, last word was he's not going to Paris. Well, forecast was low 60s, cloudy, rainy.

Myth-Making at the World Bank

Speaking of international development, the World Bank's internal communications announcement Monday hailed HR Insight, "a new Web site dedicated to sharing human resources-related data" that would "demystify" the personnel process and "clear up myths and distortions."

But that chatter 'mongst the hoi polloi was over word that E. Richard Mills, a longtime aide to World Bank President Robert Zoellick who's now Commerce Department public affairs chief, is being brought in under the radar, without competition, to a senior communications job. The job pays a minimum after-tax salary of $188,000, maximum $282,000. Most likely he's coming in at the lower end, but it's what the bank calls "net of taxes."

Not that Mills wouldn't do fine in the job -- he is a highly regarded public affairs chief who was senior adviser to Zoellick when Zoellick was at the U.S. Trade Rep's office and then at the State Department. The grousing was that the move had echoes of the management style of the discredited Paul Wolfowitz regime, where a small coterie of aides ruled the roost. Not that anyone's comparing Zoellick, who gets high marks, to Wolfowitz, but eyebrows were raised.

Au contraire, a bank official told us as he demystified the move, which was made internally official late Tuesday afternoon. He said the position is that of "senior adviser" to Marwan Muasher, the external affairs senior vice president and former Jordanian foreign minister (out plugging his fine book, "The Arab Center"), and that bank senior vice presidents "have the authority to appoint people" to advise them without going through competitive bidding. So nothing untoward.

So Mills will not have anyone reporting to him and Mills will report to work for Muasher, we were told. Bank employees, a singularly suspicious lot, were not buying that for a moment, but that's what we were told.

Saying No to Italy

Congressional tourism updates: The office of Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.) says he couldn't go on the fact-finding trip that left yesterday for the Galapagos because he and his wife "have to return to Tennessee this weekend." And Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.) also decided not to go. Also, Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) dropped off the fabulous Slovenia-Italy trip we reported about earlier.

It's a given, as we often note, that no passenger list is final until the plane lifts off.

Of Meese and Men

Okay, okay. Ed Meese was, of course, Ronald Reagan's attorney general, not Richard Nixon's, as Wednesday's column somehow said. We are investigating how that error occurred. Early indications point to a computer glitch. Please stop writing and calling.

Lieberman-Cheney: Their Show of Shows

More signs of summer slowdown. Vice President Cheney and his 2000 opponent -- and, who knows, maybe successor -- Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), yucked it up on a morning radio show yesterday recorded in Lieberman's office. Lieberman played sidekick for the dynamic duo -- kind of like he did in their 2000 debate -- as Cheney fielded questions for 15 minutes about growing up, meeting his wife, going to school and hunting.

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