Who would have thought we'd be looking back nostalgically at the days when Gen. Jay Garner puffed out his chest in Baghdad and preached can-do Americanism by exclaiming, "Damn, we're Americans!" It turns out his approach -- turn things over as quickly as possible to the Iraqis and have early elections -- was all-too-American for the Bush administration, and he had to be replaced by L. Paul "Jerry" Bremer III, who had something very different in mind. Greg Palast's interview with Gen. Garner aired on the BBC last March. -- Thanks to Ted Nation for this piece....
Interview with Gen. Jay Garner by Greg Palast
** Did the Bush Administrationís secret plan to grab Iraqís assets and oil delay elections and keep our troops under fire? **
March 19, 2004
BROADCAST TRANSCRIPT: GENERAL JAY GARNER, Former chief of Iraq occupation authority, arriving by plane.
"I've got about 220 people on this aeroplane with me, so I have a little less than 300 people to drive to Baghdad some time in the near future and begin the post-war process in Iraq, I don't know the degree to which we'll have a humanitarian crisis, could be a very large one. You could set the oil fields on fire, which would be a huge problem. If they . . . if the UN didn't pass out enough food or the Iraqi people sold that food we could go into famine pretty quickly. If we don't do something about portable water and picking up garbage and that type thing, we can break out in epidemics. If the war lingers and is not quick, then the public servants that run the country now will be dispersed and we will have a hard time getting them back. So I had a lot of... my thoughts were all the problems that we could have."
Voice of Greg Palast, reporting for BBC: "One year ago, General Jay Garner flew into the Middle East, as, in effect, America's first viceroy to oversee a new Iraq -- in his back pocket a detailed plan from the Bush Administration."
General Garner: "All I can tell you is the plans were pretty elaborate, I mean they didn't start them in 2002, they were started in 2001. I suspect they were started about the time we began winding down from Afghanistan but I'm not sure."
"THE MILITARY SITUATION"
Behind the program, Garner described Washington's long-term vision of Iraq as a political and military base in the Mideast, modeled on America's control of the Pacific in the 20th Century.
General Garner: "We used the Philippines. And the Philippines, for the lack of a better term, it was in essence a coaling station for the navy. And it allowed the US navy to maintain presence in the Pacific. They maintained great presence in the Pacific. I think . . . it's a bad analogy, but I think we should look right now at Iraq as our coaling station in the Middle East, where we have some presence there and it gives a settling effect there, and it also gives us a strategic advantage there, and I think we ought to just accept that and take that for a period of time, as long as the Iraqi people are willing to allow us to be guests in their country."
"DEMOCRACY AND THE MARKET"
General Garner: "My preference was to put the Iraqis in charge as soon as we can and do it with some form of elections. Now by saying that I don't criticize what we're doing right now, what we're doing right now has a more orderly approach than to what I was espousing at that time, I just thought it was necessary to rapidly get the Iraqis in charge of their destiny with our firm hand over them, guiding them and helping them and that type of thing."
Oil fields on fire: "Garner indicated that his desire for quick elections conflicted with the Bush Administration's economic timetable. Even as they battle to put out oil field fires, Washington pushed a timetable for privatising oil and other industries."
General Garner: "I think we as Americans, and this isn't CPA, this is just we as Americans, we tend to like to put our template on things. And our template's good, but it's not necessarily good for everybody else, you know. T.E. Lawrence has a great saying, I wish I could repeat it exactly, I can't, but it goes something like this: [he] says "it's better for them to do it imperfectly than for us to do it for them perfectly, because in the end, this is their country and you won't be here very long." And I think that's good advice." While Iraqi's worried about power and water, Washington's concern was that Garner impose an elaborate plan to redesign Iraq's economy on a radical free-market model. [On this subject, see Naomi Klein's extraordinary article in the Sept. 2004 Harper's, "Baghdad Year Zero."]
General Garner: "I just think that you . . . again, that we're better by establishing Government and re-establishing basic services and getting things picked up and letting that Government, and through their own electoral process, decide what's good for their country."
Palast BBC: "Let them decide whether to privatize the oil fields?"
General Garner: "Yes."
Pix of Kurdish trucks, roads and people. Garner's work with the Kurds after the last Gulf War made him concerned that plans to sell off their oil would generate resistance.
General Garner: "In fact, I think you'd be hard pressed to go up north and convince the Kurds that all the . . . they had to be privatized. Now you can convince the Kurds that they don't own the oil fields, but the privatization? I don't think you can do it, and that's just one fight that you don't have to take on right now."
The White House did not appreciate Garner's own resistance to their plans. After only three weeks on the ground, he was told to leave. Was this a humiliating dismissal?
General Garner: "I know that the night I got to Baghdad, Secretary Rumsfeld called me and told me that the President was appointing Paul Bremer as the presidential envoy, and that was always in the plans, that we would have a presidential envoy, and it was always in the plan that I was a temporary guy, so I think what happened is that the announcement of Ambassador Bremmer was somewhat abrupt, but it appeared abrupt to everybody on the outside, I think everybody on the inside knew it was happening, so that they made a lot of assumptions out of that."
[Soldiers patrolling the streets.] One year on, the General still worries about the cost of putting economic programs before democratic elections.
General Garner: "I'm a believer that you don't want to end the day with more enemies than you started with."
--Greg Palast is author of the New York Times bestseller, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. Subscribe to his writings for Britain's Observer and Guardian newspapers, and view his investigative reports for BBC Television's Newsnight, at www.GregPalast.com.