Wake me up if this is a nightmare, but suddenly the idea that Zalmay Khalilzad might try to become president of Afghanistan is being taken seriously indeed.

That a fierce American neocon might actually try to install himself as the elected leader of a country occupied by American troops might be laughable–but no. What’s next? Will Bill Kristol challenge Nouri al-Maliki to be Iraq’s next prime minister? How about Joe Lieberman replacing beleaguered Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert?

That Zal-Khal might run for president in Afghanistan has been rumored around for a while, and the people I’ve talked to don’t know what to make of it. But in today’s Washington Post, in Al Kamen’s “In the Loop” column, it’s treated, well, seriously.

Kamen quotes Richard Holbrooke, the Democratic foreign policy guru, saying a bit jocularly that Zal-Khal’s recent talk at the Asia Society provoked backroom gossip that he might actually run. (Khalilzad, by the way, is Sunni Pashtun Afghan by birth.) Kamen goes on to say:

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.”

You can read the whole Independent article, titled “Bush’s former Iraq ambassador to seek Afghan presidency,” here. Quote:

Three meetings have been held with opposition groups in recent months to promote Mr Khalilzad, pictured, as a “unifying” candidate in a country where deep divisions have begun to emerge between the Pashtun communities of the south and the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras of the north.

If you’ve lost track of Zal-Khal’s career, he was George W. Bush’s inept envoy to the Iraqi opposition groups before the war in 2003, during which time be worked closely with Ahmed Chalabi, Kurdish separatists, and Shiite religious extremists to create the mess that became Iraq’s governing council. His work done, he bumbled off to Afghanistan where he made a mess of that country as the first U.S. ambassador to the post-Taliban regime. Having succeeded in that task, he was promoted to the post of U.S. ambassador to Iraq, where he forced through the divisive and flawed Iraqi constitution that, to this day, guarantees political chaos in that country. Finally, he ended up replacing John Bolton as America’s ambassador to the United Nations. A stellar record, indeed.