April 16, 2003

THE MISSION:

U.S. Overseer Begins Meeting With Iraqis on New Government (JANE PERLEZ, April 15, 2003, NY Times)
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld chose General Garner for his position. The two men know each other well from the late 1990's when the general served on a missile defense commission headed by Mr. Rumsfeld. They now talk every other night by video teleconference, and sometimes Mr. Rumsfeld calls directly, the general said.

By getting out of Iraq fast, the general said, the United States can avoid repeating past mistakes. "We're notorious for telling people what to do," he said. An example? "Start with Vietnam and the strategic hamlet concept."

General Garner served two tours in Vietnam, first in 1967-68 as an infantry adviser in the central highlands, and as a district senior adviser in 1971-72 in the strategic hamlet program, which involved relocating Vietnamese in remote villages into areas heavily defended by American forces, he said. Over all, he said, the war in Vietnam was a failure because the United States had the "wrong military objective."

"It took too long," he said. "We should have taken the war north instead of waiting in the south. Just like here. If President Bush had been president, we would have won."

The general retired from the military in 1997 after serving from 1994 to 1996 as commander of the Army Space and Strategic Defense Command. He joined SYColeman, a missile systems contractor that gives technical advice on a variety of systems, including the Patriot, which was deployed in Iraq. It was bought by L-3 Communications last year. He enjoyed his business career, he said, because "most of the guys are former military, and you make a lot of money."

After the 1991 Persian Gulf war, the general ran a mission that helped the Kurds and resulted in the creation of the semiautonomous Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq. At that time, General Garner worked closely with an experienced civilian expert in delivering aid, Fred Cuny, who was later killed in Chechnya. The effort was deemed by many in Washington to be a success.

General Garner appeared unperturbed at the prospect of running all of Iraq, under much more intense scrutiny. He is prepared, he said, for bickering on Tuesday among Iraqi exile groups and local Iraqis. Mr. Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress who was flown to Nasariya almost two weeks ago by the Special Forces, will not attend, but has said he would send an adviser.

The general seemed to relish the prospect. The Tuesday meeting represents, he said, the first time in perhaps "several hundred years" that Iraq has had such an "open season" for dialogue.


The atmospherics of having a general run the country may be a little dicey, but General Garner, who rose from enlisted man, seems like a remarkable guy, with a track record and understanding of working with un-Western peoples.
Posted by Orrin Judd at April 16, 2003 9:27 AM
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