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T o bring order to society, government is necessary. And to make government function, bureaucracy is necessary. Senior administrations change but bureaucracy rumbles on with a life of its own. So in the midst of social change and challenge, confusion and disorder, bureaus hold meetings, pass resolutions, make plans and evolve policies. The Khalilzad Memorandum is the product of such a background.

In the American game of status and power, many professions have a number of "elites" who circulate, seeking and waiting for the call to power and office -- corporate managers, university presidents, academic deans, other academic factotums and numerous government bureaucrats. The State Department and the Defense Department are constantly contributing members to these groups and drawing members from them.

What offices they get depend on who they know, for whom they work, their academic credentials, the needs of departments, the skills they possess and the accidents of history.

Since the end of World War II, through Vietnam to the present Iraq chaos, scores of names float in and out of the news, in and out of Washington and in and out of public and private office -- Bolen, McGeorge Bundy, William Bundy, Kissinger, Lodge, Ridgway, Maxwell Taylor. ... More recently: Paul Wolfowitz, Cheney, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld. ... One of the most interesting of this group is Zalmay Khalilzad.

Northern Afghanistan seems an unlikely place to produce an influential American bureaucrat, but Zalmay Khalilzad was born there in 1951. He first attended private schools, then came to the U.S. as a high school exchange student, attended the University of Chicago and earned a Ph.D. in 1979. Paul Wolfowitz brought him to Washington in the early years of the Reagan Administration. Wolfowitz and Khalilzad had studied under the political scientist, Alert Wohlstetter, and had known one another for many years.

Khalilzad has held a number of important positions both in and out of government. He has worked at the Rand Corporation; been a Special Assistant to the President for Southwest Asia; taught government at Columbia University; served as an advisor to the State Department; worked in the Defense Department and became Ambassador to Iraq in 2005. But to date, probably his greatest influence came as the principal writer of the "Khalilzad Memorandum," technically "The Defense Planning Guidance."

The Khalilzad Memorandum was a Defense Department plan whose purpose was to lay out a course of action for the future of American foreign policy. Moving from the assumption that the United States was the most powerful nation in the world, it proposed that this country should take the leadership in world affairs; use whatever power is needed to head off any challenge to American preeminence; recognize what industrial resources are needed to maintain power; manipulate foreign policy to assure the continued supply of those resources; and forestall the emergence of counter forces -- rivals, coalitions or even countries that might challenge American influence, power or control.

The memorandum discards the doctrine of collective security so dominant from World War II to the fall of the Soviet Union. It proposed we should deal only with specific "coalitions" for specific purposes; that we should control them and dismiss them when threats had been removed. Long-term alliances should be viewed as a liability just as the U.N. is seen as an obstacle to our ends. We should preempt any threat to the U.S. from weapons of mass destruction, atomic, biological or otherwise. In short, the United States should determine and dominate world order.

The authors of the Khalilzad Memorandum were correct that the U.S. is the most powerful nation on earth -- provided they recognize the assumption rests on our nuclear arsenal. But their enthusiasm for security, their passion for dominance and their unacknowledged concern to protect Israel and our propertied classes overlooks some basic realities of life:

Our population is less than five percent of all the people on earth. India has nearly four times as many people as we; China has more than four times our number.

The "superiority" of the U.S. has rested on industrial production; in both efficiency and quantity we have outstripped the rest of the world. But that ascendancy is waning. Our national prowess has rested on steel production, and China has now surpassed us. Industrial production rests on abundant resources and our supply is wearing thin in critical areas such as petroleum. Further production rests on engineering which rests on mathematics. We have no monopoly on these disciplines. First-rate engineering schools can be found from Tokyo to Peking, from Moscow to Madras and all over Europe. Understandably they are growing in Latin America and taking root in Africa. Scientific knowledge is public knowledge, so the physicists of Iran understand the meaning of E=MC2 just as readily as the physics faculty at MIT or Cal Tech. And they are developing the technology to exploit it.

England, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel have nuclear weapons. And Russia is an old member of the "club," not to mention splintered "republics" who may well have nuclear bombs themselves. We have a majority of bombs, but the power of nuclear weapons renders that presumed advantage a dangerous self-deception.

There are complex ironies in these interrelationships. We have built a multi-billion dollar arsenal and have no practical way to use it. If we use a few bombs we alienate not only the survivors but also the rest of the world; if we use a large number we ourselves may perish in the fallout or exchange. The English historian James Anthony Froude correctly taught us that "fear is the parent of cruelty" -- it can also be the parent of foolishness.

The Khalilzad planners overlooked many subtle psychological problems. They assumed their interpretations of the future are what Americans really want. Maybe, but not necessarily. They assumed that perpetually threatening those who disagree with us is a durable attitude. It well might prove thin and disagreeable. The massive tragedy of Vietnam and the tragedy of Iraq -- one that has yet to run its full course -- show not only the consequences of skepticism but also how tedious war becomes and the futility of trying to justify it with prevarication. The outcome of violence is never absolutely predictable, so restraint and caution should always be used to contain it.

Effective and prudent foreign relationships call for a firm grasp of cultural anthropology. This implies a thorough mastery of the language of the people with whom we are dealing. Among the great nations of the world we have been embarrassingly ill prepared. Certain understanding of other nations requires a thorough grasp of their languages. Only then can we truly comprehend their values, loyalties and aspirations. Some who worked on "The Defense Planning Guidance" undoubtedly measured up. That our government is generally negligent is revealed by our plunge into Southeast Asia with little grasp of Chinese or Vietnamese and our willingness to thrash around in the Near East without full competence in Arabic. Earlier one appalling irony was our self-destruction of the "China Desk" in the State Department out of fear of Communism. Too much of what we do is futile. With only a fraction of the money we waste in Iraq we could build the most outstanding Foreign Service Academy in the world. Unfortunately Americans lack the vision and will -- priceless qualities damaged by befuddled emotions. The extent to which we can handle Kurdish, Turkoman, Parsi, Pushtu and Dari needs examination. And think of the problems in this regard posed by India, China and Korea.

Perhaps the most provocative aspect of Khalilzad's "Defense Planning Guidance" is the suggestion that "the United States should work actively to block the emergence of any potential competitor to American power." This argument sounds like a shrouded declaration of war against all nations. In this unstable world we should, of course, defend ourselves. But however protective of America the authors of the Defense Planning Guidance may be, their theses are expressions of intense pride -- "hubris" the ancient Greeks called it. They neglect the ancient wisdom of The Book of Proverbs. We have known at least since Solomon that pride and tragedy are close companions. Tragedy may well result from the blind surges of history, but it inevitably follows pride. In either case it brings anguish, suffering and disaster. More than the recommendations of all the bureaucrats along the Potomac, Thomas Jefferson helps us side-step the tragedy inherent in prideful foreign relations. Counseled our third President in his First Inaugural address: "Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations -- entangling alliances with none."

Lloyd Williams is a retired educator. His column runs in The Transcript every other Saturday -- and will stumble along a little longer.

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