America's Diplomatic Repairman

Perhaps the toughest repair job in the world belongs to a man who wields not a screwdriver, but a gavel. Zalmay Khalilzad is America's ambassador to the United Nations, an organization the Bush administration seemed to openly scorn for years, and now needs.

Khalilzad has the unenviable job of rebuilding the diplomatic bridges the U.S. has burned over the years.

"Well, I don't see myself that way," he said in reference to the term "repairman." "My style is to be a problem-solver, to bring people together, to work problems, to engage others, to listen, to argue, to be persistent."

His openness and willingness to listen marks a shift from the Bush administration's past approach. But at this late hour in the Bush presidency, what can Khalilzad really accomplish for America at the U.N.?

From the Cuban missile crisis to the debate over Iraq, the U.N. has been the scene of epochal moments in world history. But many Americans are dubious -- they want to know, how effective is the U.N. for Americans today?

"The U.N. does work," said Khalilzad. "But it works slowly. If we can get others to go along with what we want, or if there is a problem where we can come together here, all countries who are members of the Security Council, it gives the decision that much more legitimacy in the eyes of people around the world. And it also reduces the burden on us, if we were to do it alone."

So, all the ambassadors have to pretend to get along -- even if their countries don't.

Social Life at the U.N.

In the movies, life at the U.N. is glamorous and full of intrigue. Remember Cary Grant, caught up in espionage in "North by Northwest"? And more recently, there was Nicole Kidman in "The Interpreter," overhearing an assassination plot in the General Assembly. In real life, however, the U.N. is a lot more bureaucratic and a lot more social.

"A big indicator of success in the U.N. is if you can have two dinners in the same night," Khalilzad joked. "And I'm sacrificing the size of my waist for my country, so we'll have two meals tonight."

Khalilzad makes the diplomatic rounds, and he is known for socializing with and listening to ambassadors from every country, no matter how small.

He also enjoys an incredible perk of an ambassador's life: the deluxe apartment the State Department rents at the Waldorf, a home he shares with his wife Cheryl Bernard, and his "Diplo Dog" Griffin.

"He loves big receptions," said Bernard. "The problem is his size 'cause he can easily get stepped on."

Since 1947, the Waldorf is where America's U.N. ambassadors have lived, including President Bush's father, who filled the post in the 1970s.

Mr. Fix-It

Khalilzad has been the Bush administration's go-to guy, an international Mr. Fix-it, for years.

First, in 2001, he was sent to his native Afghanistan, to oversee the birth of the post-Taliban Afghan government.

Then, in 2005, with Iraq sliding into chaos, he was sent to Baghdad.

He spent two tough years there, under fire, sometimes literally. When insurgents fired a mortar -- during a ceremony to hand over one of Saddam Hussein's palaces to local Iraqi authorities in Tikrit -- the dignitaries were left scrambling for cover.

But the journey from Baghdad to the Waldorf is more logical than it might at first appear.

The war in Iraq, in addition to everything else, has marked one of the most dramatic and fateful chapters in the history of the United Nations.

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...