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Just a month after taking office, deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick MPP 1981 wanted to see for himself if the facts on the ground in Iraq matched the rhetoric in the briefing books back in Washington. So he traveled to Fallujah last month to inspect the nation's progress some two years after coalition troops ousted Saddam Hussein and just three months after the country held its first democratic elections in generations.
Zoellick clearly remembers the enthusiastic children waving to the helicopter filled with Americans. And he remembers vividly a town council meeting he attended in Fallujah, a meeting which he said reminded him of home.
"That was democracy at work," he told National Public Radio in a recent interview. "You had tribal sheiks. You had a former general from the old regime. You had engineers and others. I wanted to try to get a sense of how they saw the situation."
The situation remains fragile, he admitted, but he detected signs of real progress in Iraq. "This is going to be a long, tough effort, there's no doubt about it," he said. "But I think we're much better doing it with a democratic partner."
Reconstruction efforts are making serious headway despite a rash of recent insurgent attacks, he said, and security improvements were sure to follow.
"There's no doubt that the risk of the insurgency is a heavy weight on the reconstruction and development process...but I think it makes a big difference now [that the Iraqis are] going to have their government returning to their sovereignty making their decisions," he said in the interview.
A career public servant and long-time diplomat, Zoellick has worked in many top positions in both Bush Administrations, most recently as U.S. Trade Representative. His road to the White House included stops at both Harvard Law School and the Kennedy School of Government, where he graduated with a Master in Public Policy (MPP) degree in 1981.
In 1999 Zoellick returned to the Kennedy School as a research fellow at the Belfer Center, examining policies and practices of early 20th century secretaries of state.
Now as deputy secretary, Zoellick is facing the challenge of promoting both American interests and those of others fighting for freedom and democracy around the world.
That fight can be won in Iraq, Zoellick said, if the nation can move simultaneously along three crucial tracks - security, democracy, and reconstruction.
"All three have to fit together," he told NPR. "The history of defeating insurgencies [shows that] you need military support, but also the political and economic side as well." Zoellick sounds optimistic that can happen.