Thursday, November 24, 2005

Iraq: Khalilzad Babylon

Newsweek's Kevin Peraino has a vivid onscener from the cradle of civilization, such as it is these days:

Nov. 23, 2005 - All kinds of men have come to Babylon, and this week it was U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad's turn. The ruins are about a half-hour south of Baghdad—if your chariot, like Khalilzad's, is a Black Hawk helicopter. His convoy flew fast and low, just above the tree line of the date-palm groves, banking and dipping with evasive maneuvers as it approached the ancient city.

Once on the ground, Khalilzad's train of armored Suburbans wove past the amphitheater that Alexander the Great had built—and the massive, dun-colored palace that Saddam Hussein had added. "Think of the tourism potential here," Khalilzad offered as he stopped to take a photo in front of the basalt Lion of Babylon. "One day it could exceed the Iraqi income from oil!"

Khalilzad was just doing his job as America's top diplomat in Iraq: trying to keep any frail spotlight on the nation's "potential," as the rest of the world focused on its all-too-obvious perils. But as Rep. John Murtha prompted a rancorous Washington discourse about when American troops should depart Iraq, diplomats like Khalilzad and the more than 150,000 troops still stationed here could not have helped but feel the intensity of the debate back home. Lawmakers admitted public opinion seemed to be reaching a "tipping point" in the United States, as a majority of Americans—63 percent in a recent Harris poll—now say they favor bringing their troops home by the end of next year....

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