May 19th, 2003, 12:05 PM
NYT: Looting Is Derailing Detailed U.S. Plan to Restore Iraq
Describes the events that led to Garner's fall. Thanks Drudge.
The point of deluging all you guys with these articles? To emphasize for the seventeenth time that the postwar reconstruction is as important as, if not more important than, the war itself. These matters should have been discussed openly prior to the onset of any conflict. For that I blame both sides.
By ERIC SCHMITT and DAVID E. SANGER
WASHINGTON, May 18 — Long before President Bush ordered the attack against Iraq, the White House and the Pentagon drew up a plan for rebuilding and running the country after the war that was nearly as meticulous as the battle plan.
But over the past two to three weeks, the wheels have threatened to come off their vehicle for establishing the peace.
The looting, lawlessness and violence that planners thought would mar only the first few weeks has proved more widespread and enduring than Mr. Bush and his aides expected and is threatening to undermine the American plan.
Five weeks after Baghdad fell, Mr. Bush finds himself exactly where he did not want to be: forced to impose control with a larger number of troops and to delay the start of efforts to turn power over to Iraqis.
The message that reached the White House from two recent meetings with potential Iraqi leaders, officials say, was that it would be foolish to start experimenting with democracy without making people feel secure enough to go back to work or school, and without giving them back at least the basic services they received during Saddam Hussein's brutal rule.
Senior administration officials said they had foreseen some problems, but not all. "You couldn't know how it would end," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in a telephone conversation on Friday that he initiated. "When it did end, you take it as you found it and get at it, knowing the single most important thing is security."
Another senior administration official said the White House was surprised to learn how badly broken Iraq's prewar infrastructure was. "From the outside it looked like Baghdad was a city that works," the official said. "It isn't."
Mr. Bush's aides cautioned reporters before the war that even the best plans would have to be rewritten on the ground.
Those plans called for quickly returning Baghdad police officers to duty to maintain a semblance of order, and having Iraqi soldiers build roads and clear rubble. They envisioned cheering crowds and a swift restoration of electricity and other utilities. The quick establishment of a civilian Iraqi interim authority, officials said, would help demonstrate to a suspicious Arab world that America would not act as an occupier, as in Japan and Germany.
"We will in fact be greeted as liberators," Vice President Dick Cheney said on March 16, three days before the war started.
But many of Baghdad's 10,000 police officers are just now trickling back. The Iraqi soldiers disappeared. No one in Washington anticipated the degree to which the chaos would undermine that central goal of presenting the United States as a liberator, senior officials said.
In fact, that instinct may have worsened the problem, senior officials said in interviews. Inside the White House, officials feared that if the looters were shot — the fastest way to send the message that the United States was intent on restoring order — the pictures on Al Jazeera would reinforce the worst images of America in the Arab world.
Within the administration, the backbiting has intensified. Some say Jay Garner, the retired Army lieutenant general initially charged with the physical and political rebuilding of Iraq, moved too slowly.
The sense that General Garner's team got off to a slow start was reinforced when he and a small team of aides finally arrived in Baghdad in late April to discover that they had no functioning e-mail, no way for outsiders to reach them by telephone, no cars and drivers to get them around the city and no interpreters. Aides say those problems have since eased.
Moreover, General Garner clashed with his top administrator for Baghdad, Barbara Bodine, a former ambassador to Yemen who has since left. "They were two very strong personalities, and they never came together as a team," said one senior official here.
But even critics of General Garner, who was replaced on May 7 by a career diplomat, L. Paul Bremer III, say he has been a victim of fierce infighting between the Pentagon and State Department over running postwar operations, and of a security environment he does not control.
They also say that he was forced by events to take on a role broader than the one originally envisioned. "We always knew that we would need" a chief operating officer, said one senior official, "someone who would make the trains run on time."
But until Mr. Bremer's arrival, General Garner also had to play the role of chief executive officer, the public face of the American authority. It was a role to which he sometimes seemed less than perfectly suited.
At a moment that the White House was seeking to quash any thought that the United States was an occupying power, Mr. Garner chastised reporters for dwelling on the shortcomings of the Iraq postwar efforts, saying, "We ought to look in a mirror and get proud, and stick out our chests and suck in our bellies and say, `Damn, we're Americans!' "
He acknowledged in videotaped testimony to Congress last Tuesday that his Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance was just now — after three weeks on the ground — getting its arms around a set of immensely complex issues, and making headway on problems like salary payments and gasoline distribution.
"This is an ad hoc operation, glued together over about four or five weeks' time," he told the House International Relations Committee, adding that his team "didn't really have enough time to plan."
General Garner was referring to a side effect of the war's unexpectedly quick end. That resulted in other unanticipated surprises. One administration official noted that because the Special Republican Guard soldiers inside Baghdad melted away without facing off against the allied forces, "you have a lot more guys with guns" in the city today.
In his testimony, General Garner implicitly sought lawmakers' help to ensure that 11 major goals — from restoring order in Baghdad to distributing food efficiently nationwide to addressing outbreaks of cholera and dysentery — were achieved by about June 15, his projected departure date from Iraq.
"The next 30 to 40 days is probably the critical period," he said. "If we make headway on a lot of major things, we will put ourselves in a marvelous up-ramp where things can begin happening. If we don't do that, we're on a negative ramp."
Success will hinge on security, officials said, one reason about 20,000 troops and military police are headed to the Baghdad area to join the 49,000 already there. Troops will be allocated where needed, officials said.
The seeds of the troubled reconstruction effort date to late January, when Mr. Rumsfeld coaxed General Garner away from a top post at a defense contractor to lead perhaps the most ambitious postwar effort since World War II.
His mission was to oversee relief, reconstruction and civil administration, with a goal of turning over control in stages to Iraqis. He reported to Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the commander of allied forces in Iraq, who was responsible for security.
General Garner, 65, won acclaim for protecting Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq after the Persian Gulf war in 1991, a much smaller job.
Within a month of his appointment, he assembled a team of about 200 specialists from across the government. On Feb. 21, nearly a month before the war started, he held a two-day rehearsal in Washington to review plans for everything from communications to creating a new Iraqi currency.
But problems were already cropping up. Critics complained that he failed to build support on Capitol Hill. He sent lower-level officials to meet with aid groups, who complained to the White House that their efforts to help were being stymied. "The humanitarian community made repeated efforts to meet with Garner to express our concerns," said Sandra Mitchell, vice president of the International Rescue Committee. "He was always unavailable."
General Garner and a cadre of top aides, including Larry Di Rita, Mr. Rumsfeld's chief of staff, left Washington in mid-March. By early April, General Garner had been able to make only day visits into Iraq, and was chafing at being cooped up in a Kuwait hotel until the military's Central Command deemed it safe enough for him to begin operations in Iraq, officials said.
But even as he sat and waited, General Garner was caught in bureaucratic crossfire here and in allied capitals. British officials expressed concern that General Garner would look too much like a military proconsul overseeing an American protectorate in Iraq, stirring distrust in the Arab world.
In Washington, a bitter fight between the Pentagon and State Department over control of postwar operations escalated as reports of unrest in Baghdad caught American officials by surprise.
"Garner and the U.S. were unprepared to deal with the security vacuum," said Kenneth H. Bacon, a former Pentagon spokesman who is president of Refugees International.
A critical set of events happened the week of April 21, when General Garner arrived in Baghdad. The administration planned a four-day coming-out trip for General Garner through northern Iraq and Baghdad. There was no hint, however, that big changes were in the works 6,000 miles away in Washington.
The administration adopted a new policy to accelerate the transfer to an Iraqi civilian authority. The move, favored by the Pentagon and opposed by the State Department and C.I.A., was aimed at countering Iranian meddling in Iraqi politics.
But that recalibration required a new kind of chief executive for Iraq, and it took the White House longer than anticipated to settle on Mr. Bremer as the man for the job.
Mr. Rumsfeld said in the interview that the plan had always envisioned someone like Mr. Bremer to fill the role of overall civilian administrator for Iraq. He said that he and his deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz, went through a list of about 50 candidates before ultimately selecting Mr. Bremer, a 23-year diplomat. Mr. Rumsfeld said he consulted with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell; George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence; and Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, who all concurred on the choice.
Mr. Bremer met with Mr. Bush at the White House on April 25. It would take someone of his skills, they concluded, to deal with the postwar allied coalition, the complexities of civilian Iraqi politics and the uneasy dealings with the United Nations. Complex economic issues were also moving to the fore, including how to deal with Iraq's foreign debt and whether to replace the nation's currency, the dinar, which still bears the likeness of Mr. Hussein.
Last week, Mr. Rumsfeld praised General Garner for doing "a spectacular job for this country," and said in the interview that Mr. Bremer's appointment was a natural progression of the plan. "It seemed increasingly like there was going to be a set of issues that would demand the attention of — and benefit from the attention of — someone like Jerry Bremer," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "It was the evolution of where we'd come and where we were."