The Man Who Would Be King of Iraq
While the U.S. military finds itself bogged down on the road to Baghdad, the real hitch in Bush administration's grand vision for post-war Iraq may well be the man slated to take charge of it – arms-dealer and former "Star Wars" guru General Jay Garner.
In a move typical for what passes for U.S. diplomacy these days, the Pentagon developed and announced its occupation plan without consulting the rest of the alleged coalition (no, not even trusty Britain) or the State Department. Worse, to this highly visible and important position, it picked a man with a dubious past and ideological credentials worthy of a Bush appointee.
A unilateralist hawk, the retired general is an ideological soulmate of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz, his main collaborators in developing the "axis of evil" approach to U.S. foreign policy. But when it comes to the Middle East, his track record is even more alarming.
In 2000, Garner and 26 other U.S. officers signed a statement released by the right-wing Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) praising the Israeli Defense Forces for its "remarkable restraint in the face of lethal violence orchestrated by the leadership of a Palestinian Authority." Indeed, the choice of Garner seems designed to enflame local and regional resistance. This is a man who after one JINSA junket declared, "A strong Israel is an asset that American military planners and political leaders can rely on."
Fortune magazine burbled that "Garner's civilian status is a big plus." But although his official title is "co-ordinator of civilian administration," Garner has always been a die-hard advocate of all things military – sometimes at the expense of the facts. During the first Gulf War he went to Congress and touted the success of the Patriot missiles during the Iraqi attack on Israel. He did not issue a retraction when it was revealed that the Patriots caused more damage to Israel than the Iraqi Scuds they were supposed to bring down.
The man who will be in charge of the disarmament of Iraq was also a fervent proponent of the fatally flawed Star Wars missile defense system, touting its virtues even when the results of its testing were later revealed to be rigged.
Garner's so-called civilian career was also closely related to the Pentagon. In a classic example of the military-industrial complex at work, Garner retired from the military in 1997 to become President of SY Technology, a defense contractor specializing in missile defense systems. The company soon landed non-competitive contracts as part of the Star Wars program that Pentagon whistleblower, former Lt. Colonel Biff Baker, alleged were procured through Garner's influence. SY Technology sued Baker for defamation and for "causing loss of privacy" for Garner.
The case was settled out of court in January this year, just as Garner was moving to his new and very public position. And by yet another startling coincidence, the company was awarded a $1.5 billion contract this year to provide logistics services to U.S. special operations forces. The Iraqis themselves may be unhappy, if not surprised, to hear that their to-be satrap's former company has contracts to help build Patriot missile systems for Israel and Kuwait.
The Bush administration has been busy spinning Garner's record to make him appear the perfect, sensitive, team player that Iraq needs to rebuild itself in the American image. But it seems entirely appropriate that Garner was unilaterally appointed on Jan. 20, even as the US was still officially trying to get a UN resolution for the invasion of Iraq.
Nor did Garner's visit to the UN impress the aid officials. He made it clear the only job for the UN in Iraq is to help finance the U.S.-led occupation. But if anything can save Iraq from Garner's tender clutches, it will be the need for UN money.
The Bush Administration is like the Red Queen in Alice in the Looking Glass, perfectly able to believe in three impossible things before breakfast. This is a White House that has committed itself both to tax cuts and an expensive war. It claims Iraqi oil fields are the property of its people even as it prepares to pay the post-war reconstruction with the same oil. The same administration that pledged to ensure a role for the UN at the Azores Summit had already announced plans for an all-American administration headed by Jay Garner.
At the heart of Washington's contradictory and constantly shifting position is the desire to monopolize the control of Iraq but persuade the rest of the world to split the bill. The U.S. attitude is best epitomized by the junior diplomat who turned up at the United Nations in the first week of the war and asked the UN officials to hand over the money they had allocated for relief and humanitarian aid – money that the White House sorely needed since Congress had failed to appropriate any money for the worthy effort. Not surprisingly, Kofi Annan refused.
The two sides finally reached a temporary compromise on Friday when the Security Council unanimously passed a short-term measure allowing the UN to take charge of the oil-for-food program and sign off on food shipments, which then will be distributed by the coalition forces to the Iraqis. But the resolution also made it very clear that the UN is not interested in financing a U.S.-ruled Iraq. It stressed that "to the fullest extent of the means available to it, the occupying power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population." So when the time comes to set up a post-war administration in Iraq, the U.S. will either have to pay its own way or play ball with the rest of the Security Council.
But so far, there are few signs that the White House is willing to change its greedy ways. Even the British were not impressed with the U.S. decision to let the infamous union-busting company, Stevedoring Services of America, run the newly "liberated" port of Umm Qasr – a role that they thought rightly belonged to the Iraqis. Aiming General Jay Garner at the innocent civilians of post-war Iraq will be yet another ham-handed, arrogant decision that guarantees an aftermath as messy and potentially disastrous as its initiation.
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