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HBO History Makers Series with Jay Garner

Speaker: Jay M. Garner, Lieutenant General (U.S. Army, Retired); Former Director, Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Iraq
Presider: Michael R. Gordon, Chief Military Correspondent, The New York Times
October 1, 2008
Council on Foreign Relations

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Michael R. Gordon:  I have been instructed to get this show on the show by General Garner.

Jay Garner: Jay.

GORDON:  Jay.  That is what I'm going to do.  I would like to welcome you to tonight's Council on Foreign Relations History Makers event with Jay Garner who is a very important figure in the early part of the American mission in Iraq.  On behalf of the Council I would like to thank Richard Plepler and the Home Box Office for supporting this event and making it possible.  Since you have all been to these things before, you know that you are not supposed to have on your cell phones and Blackberrys and wireless and all those devices that could interfere with this discussion.  For all those who attend sessions that are background or not on the record, this is on the record, all these comments can be attributed.  So I guess I need to be careful what I say.

GARNER: They always are anyhow.

GORDON: I think this can be a very interesting discussion.  My role is really just to ask some questions to kind of set it up for about 25 minutes or so and then hand it over to you and the audience to present your questions.  But really what we want to focus on tonight is not debate on what is happening in Iraq today.  We want to illuminate and go over what happened in 2003 and take advantage of Jay's presence here, although I am going to ask him for his reflections and some of the lessons learned from his experience.  I first encountered Jay Garner in April 2003 and I got to Baghdad pretty early on.  I was an embedded correspondent for the New York Times embedded with General McKiernan, who is now the chief commander in Afghanistan and was then the top commander in Iraq.  I was at what was then their headquarters, the Abu Ghraib North Palace, which was a bombed-out palace.  Satellite guided JAT ammunition had been put through one wing of it.  Some goats and some sheep had been living in there for a while and they had to chase them out and clean up that place a little bit.  I'm told that when they went through the palace initially and cleared it out in the early phase, they found some Syrian fighters or Saddam Fedayeen trying to hide among the refrigerators.  But that was the headquarters in early April for General McKiernan when Baghdad was at a stage of tumultuous phase and it was sort of wild in the streets.  It is now known as Camp Victory and it has been spiffed up considerably since then with all sorts of video technology and satellite communications, as anyone knows who has gone to Iraq.  I was there in April and I recall, I think it was around April 19th or 17th, in Iraq arrives Jay Garner and a team of officials who represented something that was known as ORHA, the office of reconstruction and humanitarian assistance, which was really to be the civilian administration in Iraq.  And 2003 was a very chaotic period.  If you just reflect back on what was happening on the American side, in the span of that summer the top American commander rotated out and was replaced by General Sanchez, really the most junior kind of division commander in Iraq at the time.  The corps commander, Scott Wallace, left.  General Franks of CENTCOM was replaced by General Abizaid, and as events transpired Jay Garner was replaced by Jerry Bremer.  With all of these moving pieces in the civilian realm and the military realm and just staffs moving in and out, it's amazing to me that anyone could actually keep tabs on what was happening in Iraq.  Meanwhile, while the Americans were shuffling all these pieces, all around them was growing an insurgency, which I think was noticed far too late, partly because we were distracted by our own difficulties in trying to organize what was intended to be a post-conflict administration but became an administration that was in the middle of a continuing war.  To start this off and go back in time, Jay, I think it would be instructive to say when you were tapped for this very important mission of being the top American civilian administrator in Iraq.  We know that the war planning began really in late '01, when General Franks was asked to begin work on a war plan.  On the civilian side when did they approach you and say we want you to oversee Iraq?

GARNER: About the second week in January.  I was here in Manhattan.

GORDON: The second week in January, 2003, just a few months before the war.

GARNER: Yeah.  I got a call from Doug Feith, who was the policy guy in the Pentagon, who said Secretary Rumsfeld wants you to put together a staff that, should be go to war in Iraq, would go in and do the post-war work of reconstruction and governing and that type of thing.  I said I'm not sure I can do it, I will get back to you.  I went to see Rumsfeld on the 17th of January and told him I had to go and get leave of absence from my company.  I was president of a company at that time.  I got a four-month leave of absence.  I had to get permission from my wife of many years who had left several wars during my career.  I went and told them I would do and they said, by the way, if we go to war over there you probably won't go over there because we will put a man of stature over there, which insulted me because I'm only 5'7".  They could have used another term, a man of some stature.  But initially I was never supposed to go over there and I think the cart got going to fast.

GORDON: An interesting point was that granted you were supposed to be administrator for the first phase of it, and you were to be followed up.

GARNER: By an envoy, a presidential envoy.

GORDON: An president envoy or a political figure, whatever, but they were going to you to give you what was even under the best of circumstances was going to be a very challenging assignment in their contacting you in January 2003, really just two months before this whole thing was about to kickoff.  One reason they do come to you is an episode in your life that a lot of people don't know about which is your previous experience in Kurdistan following the Persian Gulf war the 1991 Desert Storm conflict.  What happened in Kurdistan that gave you some experience in the Iraq War?

GARNER: In 1991 I was the joint force commander in Northern Iraq with several interesting people with me.  Colonel Jim Jones, who just retired as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, was my Marine commander.  Lt. John Abizaid was my Army commander, who was CENTCOM commander.  Our mission was to go into North Iraq, to push the Iraqi army out of Northern Iraq, to restore the area where the Kurds could come back down from the mountains in Turkey where they were dying at a rate of one thousand a day.  They could also come back in from Iran.  We were there about five months and we brought the Kurds back, we built villages for them, and eventually we put them all back into their homes.

GORDON: When you are tapped for this very important job on which so much depends.  It's one thing to take down Baghdad, it's another thing to stabilize Iraq in that kind of situation.  When you went about organizing a staff, what resources were really made available to you by the inner agencies?

GARNER: On about the 20th of January the President signed an presidential decisions memorandum turning the initial responsibility for post-war Iraq over to the Department of Defense.  So I went to Condoleezza Rice and said I need an inter- agency team.  She said okay, come in here and brief the deputies.  I went and I designed an organization - I had a lot of help - and we put down all the functions of each leg of an organization.  Then we put what agency we thought should perform each function.  Then I went in and briefed all the deputies early February, the first day or two of February.  I told Rumsfeld at the time that what we are going to do is get the C Team, get what everybody wants at that point, which wasn't true.  We really got a pretty good team.  It was a pickup team but it was a pretty good team, very experienced people.  So people began to trickle in and by the third week of February we had enough people, a little over 100 people, where we could sit down and begin to go through what planning had been done in each inner-agency.  The problem with the plan at that time it was all done in the vertical stove pipe of each inner agency or organization.  There wasn't any horizontal connectivity and I'm not sure we ever really got the horizontal connectivity because we just didn't have the time.  When I first got there, when I walked in and told Rumsfeld I would do it, I said, you know, Mr. Secretary, George Marshall started in 1942 working on a 1945 problem.  You are starting in late January working on a March or April problem.  He said, well, I know that be are where we are.  Time was a big factor.

GORDON: Time was a big problem.  When you were getting ready to head to theater, did you get all of the personnel that you wanted or did you run into political obstacles (Inaudible)?

GARNER: There was always a war between the Department of Defense and the State Department, which was harmful.  The problem is that, you can understand two dominant personalities like Rumsfeld and Colin Powell going at each other, but you can't understand the people above them letting that happen.  That was never stopped.  So what happened was there was this intense war between the two of them and so the rest of the inner agencies just sat back.  So you had to pull from everybody what you needed.

GORDON: I recall that early on prior to the invasion there was an official, I believe he was with the Justice Department, Dick Meyer.

GARNER: He's a good guy.

GORDON: He identified a need.  He had a lot of experience in the Balkans in peacekeeping and nation-building efforts, and he identified the need for thousands really of police mentors and trainers.

GARNER: Trainers and advisors, yeah, 5,000.

GORDON: I think it was 5,000 that he thought would be necessary to try to prevent the riots and looting and help build a new, well, at least keep the lid on in Iraq.  What happened to his request because what happened, as I recall, is you end up with 50 assessors and not 5,000 police.

GARNER: Fifty assessors came in probably June.

GORDON: So what happened?

GARNER: What happened is, my issue was, yeah, I think we needed them, absolutely.  But when we got over, when we brought that over to the White House, to Condoleezza Rice, she turned it over to Eliot Abrams.  Not Eliot, excuse me.  To Frank Miller and Frank Miller was totally against it.  Her staff was against that.  So we fought back and forth on that issue and really never got the resolution on it.

GORDON: When you embarked for Kuwait and then eventually Iraq, you had a staff member who is an expert on policing, who has done this in a previous kind of conflict, who has identified a need for 5,000 police, as an absolutely critical requirement, and you are actually embarking on your task with none of this agree.  In fact, you end up getting 50 people to go in an assess how many police advisors might be needed and they don't even arrive until June.

GARNER: You really didn't need an assessment team because the Iraqi police were at the bottom of the food chain.  The Iraqi police got no training.  If you wanted to be a policeman, you walk down to the station and say I want to be a policeman.  If they had a slot or a uniform, you got that and you became a policeman that day.  They didn't patrol.  They stayed in little station houses.  So it was really not a trained organization, not a disciplined organization, and not one that was professional at all.  So you really needed a set of trainers to come over there and build and Iraqi police force.  It was that hard to get the Iraqi police to come back but when they came back you didn't have that much.  What was really necessary was to start a program to build a competent police force.

GORDON: So come late March, the war begins, March 20, in the region and you have your team, such as it was, assembled at that time.  What was your expectation of what your role would be once Saddam Hussein was ousted from power and of ORHA, your organization?

GARNER: We went to Kuwait on the 16th of March and the war stated I think on the 18th or 19th.  Our initial plan was to follow the force as they went through cities.  So that kind of went out the window.

GORDON: I think this is worth underscoring and I recall this because I was embedded with Gen. McKiernan's command.  In this very compressed period in which you were able to develop your peace plan for what would follow the war, your vision was there would be these sort of liberated zones, like Bosnia.  You would go in there, begin your efforts, and that would be a bit of a model for what you might do in Baghdad.  But while you were planning that way, the military had an entirely different concept of operations in which they were going to bypass these cities.  It made perfect sense in military terms, head straight to Baghdad, and so now you have discovered you have a plan that is at odds with the military strategy and so you have to adapt, just days before.  Right?

GARNER: There are a couple of points to make on that.  Militarily, what they did was pretty smart, bypass the cities so they wouldn't get bogged down.  But by doing that, that allowed essentially the Iranians and radical elements to go in and fill the vacuums in those cities.  When we finally got to where we could go in there, it was hard to dislodge the radical elements.  What we did was on about the 21st of March, we put about 45 of my team in Basra and on the 27th we put about another 50 up Urbil, up in Northern Iraq.  Then on the 19th of April I went to Baghdad and on the 24th of April the rest of my team drove to Baghdad.

GORDON: Now, you have arrived in Baghdad.  It's the 19th of April.  Baghdad falls on April 7th really, and certainly by the 9th it's under two divisions in Baghdad, the Marines in the east side of the river and the Army on the west, with the Tigris being the demarcation.  There is a really interesting event that I was in Baghdad for and that was on April 16th.  So really talking about one week after Baghdad feel, General Franks came up to Baghdad, had a meeting with all of his combatant commanders, Navy, Air, Special Ops, they all few up there, and I recall this they had victory cigars, which they smoked in this palace, and he gave them his guidance as to what he thought would follow.  He said, you the commanders of these forces should expect to reduce the American presence in Iraq to little more than a division by September '03.  To get to this fairly low level of troops, they should be prepared to take as much risk coming out as they did as coming in.  I recall then that some of Gen. McKiernan's aides were absolutely dumbfounded by this guidance, but that is the guidance that they got from the CENTCOM commander.  What was your reaction when you heard this and what implications did it have for what you were trying to do?

GARNER: The next day Dave McKiernan called me, the 19th, and said we have to get together.  I have to show you this briefing.  So he came.  The first slide says you take as much risk going out as coming in, and I said, hell, Dave.  You didn't take any risk coming in here, you're going to win this war.  But all the risk is right now, you can't leave.  He said, I'm with you, you are reading the chart just like I am.  Interesting.  About a week or 10 days later, I was up in Al Hill(?).  I went to see Gen. Conway, the Marine Commander.  When I came out, I went over to one of his battalion commanders and I said, what is going on here, how is everything going?  He said, we're pulling out.  I said, what do you mean you're pulling out?  He said, yeah, we're pulling out, we're relocating.  I said, where else in Iraq are you going?  He said no, we're leaving.  I said you can't do that.  He said let me take to talk to one of my company commanders and you will understand.  So I go and see this young company commander.  He's a bright guy.  He says tell Gen. Garner what is happening.  He says here is what's happening.  Every time we pull out, we have gone in and we have been in these towns, we're getting along with the people.  But he says, we pull out of there the really radical Islamic elements come in here.  I'll tell you, he said, they are Iranian.  He said they take over the security, take over the police, they take over education, they take over electricity, they take over water, the take over health.  He said they control everything in quality of life.  I got on the phone that night and called Rumsfeld and said you have to stop the redeployment.  I said I will have more proof for you in another 20(?), but you have to.  Here is what is happening, here is what I think is happening and this I believe.  He said, well, thank you very much.  So I took an Arab linguist that I had, a State Department guy, who was an Arabist.  I said you've got 48 hours.  I want you to go the markets in Najaf and Al-Hillah and Karbala and around and find out if this is true.  You've got 48 hours.  He came back in about 18 hours and said I didn't need 48, I can tell you it's worse than you think it is.  It is really happening.  That was one of the great mistakes that we made.  By uncovering these areas and letting the bad elements come in and fill those vacuums.  We spent now the next three of four years trying to get them out of there.

GORDON: Before we go to questions, I want to take you into the substance of what was happening in post-Saddam Iraq.  As you were trying to oversee the process of asdministering Iraq, there was an assumption that you and your organization made in retrospect turned out not to be well-founded, I think, although I think you may disagree.  That was that the institutional infrastructure of Iraq would remain in tact absent Saddam Hussein.  When your organization came in, your hope was to control and govern Iraq through the ministries, by replacing people at the top of the ministriers, but your expectation was that the ministries would continue to function, the basic levers of government would continue to work.  Can you address that?

GARNER: Yeah.  Our concept was that when you go in there you bring the ministries back because the ministries control the quality of life.  They control everything.  So to do that we started what we called a very gentle de-Baathification , where we took out the top guy, we took out the personnel guy, and we brought everybody else back and we said over time the people in the ministries themselves will point out bad guys and we will vet them on a case by case basis.  But we had to bring the ministries back in order to get the country functioning again.  Two things damaged that.  The first thing was as we were going into Baghdad, Baghdad Bob was saying we're not in there and all that.  CENTCOM got aggravated and they took out all the communications.  So there was really no civilian communications.  If you wanted to communicate, if you wanted to start school, you had to bring in all the school people from the provinces into Baghdad.  So you're going to start school on this date and you're going to graduate them on this date, and here are the things you've got to accomplish in-between there.  They send them back out and you change your mind, you have to bring them back again.  So absolutely no way to communicate.  The second thing is that of the 21 ministry buildings we were going to use, the looting destroyed 17 of them.  Looting didn't surprise me because in '91 when we went up north, there was severe looting up North.  But what the Kurds did up North was they went into the government buildings.  They killed whatever Iraqis were in there.  They went into the government buildings and they took out all the furniture.  It was winter time and they took out the door jams and windows jams and used that for firewood.  But other than that, they left everything in tact.  That didn't happen in Baghdad.  They took everything out.  They stripped all the wiring out of the buildings.  They took all the piping out of the buildings.  Then they set the buildings on fire.  So they weren't structurally safe.  You couldn't use them again.  We were reduced to about four buildings.  One was the oil building.  Really the other was the convention center.  Then since there was no building for the ministry workers to go back to, they stayed home.  We didn't know who they were, so I literally put my team out on the streets of Baghdad walking around asking shopkeepers and all that, do you know anybody who was in the ministry, in the groceries, do you know the people who were in the ministry of the interior, ministry of defense?  That type thing.  Eventually over about a 10 or 12 day period we got the nucleus back, and eventually people would come back and they would have a floppy disk of the people in the ministries and it took us about three weeks to recruit them back, get them back in there.

GORDON: I think what happened really was you had a plan, which may or may not have been realistic, but it certainly depended on, it assumed the provision of security in the Iraqi capital, a security which the American military didn't have the sources really to establish in those first chaotic weeks.  I want to ask you, when did you first hear that Ambassador Jerry Bremer was going to be your successor and how did that all, when did you first learn of that?

GARNER: I went to Baghdad on the 19th.  I spent the night in Baghdad in McKiernan's headquarters, which you were talking about earlier.  I spent the next day I went to the hospitals, the sewage plant, the electrical grid to kind of make an assessment of what was going on.  I was pretty shocked about how bad everything was.  When I was there I got a call from Dick Naab, who was the guy I had up north in Irbil.  Dick Naab was with me in '91.  He lived with the Kurds for 18 months after I left in '91.  So he is very well respected by the Kurds.  He said I talked to Talabani and Barzani and they are getting ready to come to Baghdad and put in an interim government.  I said they can't do that, I'll be up there tomorrow.  So I got with Dave McKiernan.  I got on a plane and I flew to Mosul, met them.  We went together to Sulaimanya to Lake Dookan.  I sat down with them and I said you guys can't put together an interim government.  I can't let you do that.  I said I want an interim government but you two guys can't do it.  I knew Talabani and Barzani very well.  We had a very close relationship in '91 and we had maintained contact.

GORDOM: What was your concern about the interim government (Inaudible)?

GARNER: I didn't have the full story.  You see, you can't two Kurds coming to Baghdad to rule Iraq.  Talabani said we're not doing that.  He is what we are going to do.  We are going to take the team of leaders that Khalilzad had put together, Zalmay Khalilzad.  He had been working with them for about 14 or15 months.  It was Talabani, Barzani, Chalabi, Allawi, Pachichi, Hakim.  He said we were going to bring all of them to Baghdad to help you to be a face of government.  I said I want you to do that.  You bring them to Baghdad, I want you to be there in a week, and we go down this road together I would like as soon as we can to have an interim government because I don't want my face to be what the Iraqi people see as leading them.  I want one of your faces doing that.  I said by the way I don't want Hakim on that because he is too Iranian.  Talabani in his own style reached over and padded me on the knee and he said, Jay, it's better th have Hakim inside the tent than outside the tent.  I said, you know, Imam Jalal, you are right as usual are.  But I said we have to bring some more in because you two guys are Kurds expats and so I need somebody else.  He said we'll bring in Jaafari and we'll bring in a Christian.  They did bring in Jaafari but they didn't bring in a Christian.  But we tipped(?) on them and we set them up to be a face of government for the Iraqi people.  I left and I got back to Baghdad on the afternoon of the 24th.  My team had driven up from Kuwait and had started at three o'clock that morning.  They were getting in there about five.  The phone rang at six.  It was Secretary Rumsfeld.  He said, Jay, you're doing a great job.  Everything is going fine.  Keep up the good work, real proud.  By the way, the President just named the Presidential Envoy and it's going to be Jerry Bremer.  I want you to call him.  I said, I would be glad but, number one, I don't have his number and, number two, how about holding this off until about the first of July because General McKiernan and I have a lot of really good things going on.  Let us execute those and it will be much easier for Jerry Bremer to come here.  He said, I can't really do that because the President appointed him and it's on his timeline and not mine.  I said okay fine.  He said, I want you to stay there with him.  I said no, I don't work that way, Mr. Secretary.  I said you can't bring in a new guy and leave the old guy there too because the people under them get mixed on where their loyalties are.  So I said the best thing for him is for me to leave.  He said, well, you have to transition.  I said I will do that.  He and I will work together until I'm sure that he has the reigns and then I'll leave.

GORDON: Didn't you have a conversation later with Ambassador Bremer where you suggested he get himself prepared to come over but he said his desire was to get engaged immediately, right?

GARNER: Yeah.  The next morning he called me.  I was going down to call him.  When I walked into the office, the phone was ringing and it was Jerry Bremer.  He introduced himself and I said you would be better served if you stayed there for another month or so and really got fully briefed on everything and really learned about the culture and the leaders and the people and that type thing and let me complete some of the things I'm doing because it will be easier for you.  He said, no.  I can't do that.  I have to get there as soon as possible.

GORDON: Now, when Ambassador Bremer arrives, he makes a number of decisions, which are still debated today.  He decides to formally dissolve the Iraqi army.  He goes for a Baathification strategy.  Were these steps consistent with what you were trying to do?  How did they differ and did you learn about them?

GARNER: As I said we were doing a general de-Baathification.  At about seven o'clock one morning, Ambassador Robin Raphel brought me the de-Baathification list and she said you've got to read this.  I read it and I said we can't do this, it's too deep.  She said you need to read this.  So, I read it and assessed we can't do this; it's too deep.  She said, well, you've got to go get this changed.  I was walking down toward Jerry's office and I saw the CIA station chief coming across and I said, hey, Charlie, what are you doing?  He said, I just read this de-Baathification order and I'm going to talk to Mr. Bremer.  I said let's go together.  I said, look Jerry, this is too deep.  I said we just now read it.  I said give Charlie and I an hour or so.  We will do this.  We will do the puts and takes on it.  We'll come back to you, we'll get on the phone with Rumsfeld, whoever we need to get on with, and we will soften this.  He said, no, absolutely not.  These are my instructions and I have to execute those.  I said it's too deep.  You won't be able to run the country if you do this.  He said, I told you it's my instructions, I've got to execute this.  I said, Charlie, tell him what is going to happen.  Charlie said, let me tell you something, Mr. Ambassador.  If you do this, by nightfall you are going to drive between 30,000-50,000 Baathists underground, and the number if closer to 50 than it is 30.  The next day was the directive to do away with the Ministry of Defense and it also said the Ministry of the Interior in that first day.  Do I went to him and I said, Jerry, I would brief the President.  We were going to bring back it back to the Army here.  He agreed I was referred it in front of everybody.

GORDON: Just to pause for a second, and I had to research this in laborious detail, the plan had been theretofore to make use of the Iraqi army.  The US military wanted to use them because they knew they didn't have enough forces to control the country.  Indeed, consultants were brought into the business for the retraining process.  Jay's organization wanted to use them as a workforce, and even though they had gone AWOL, the concept was to recall them.  But the edict to dissolve the army, did you have a chance to vet that before that was issued?

GARNER: No.  I saw that that morning.  I was shocked.  Because two days before they went and had a SVCs(?) back with DC on bringing back the Army.

GORDON: A satellite video conference.

GARNER: We have located a little over 40,000 of them that time to come back, who said they wanted to come back.  By the way, during the war we dropped leaflets saying just don't fight us and all that and we will bring you back.  They expected to come back.  We had been planning all along to bring them back.  We had a set of contractors who had been the ones who trained the Croatian army with us there in Baghdad to pick this up.  So I was shocked when that happened.  So I told him, I said, look, Jerry.  We planned to bring them back.  We were going to use them to guard static security things like buildings, ammunition dumps, things like that, and also to use them as a workforce because they are organized.  They are in organizations.  They have a chain of command.  They have skill set to do the things we need them to do.  He said, no, that's been changed.  The decision is we are going to get rid of them, we're going to build a completely new army.  I said, let me tell you something.  You can get rid of an army in a day but it takes you years and years and years to build one because it's not trigger pullers.  It's the institutions that sustain them, that feed them, that have medical care for them, that takes care of the families, that gives them logistic systems, that type of thing.  I said those take years to build.  So if you're going to do that, you're starting off on a very long-term program and you need an Iraqi army now.  He said the decision has been made.

GORDON: When you got back to, I guess, the United States after Ambassador Bremer took the reigns, did you meet with the President or Rumsfeld?  What did you tell them about what going on out there?

GARNER: I did.  Right after they got rid of the army, they got rid of the leadership.

GORDON: Right.  They also got this concept of an interim government - I should have mentioned that - that Talabani and others were going to put together, an Iraqi governing council.  There was to be a meeting in late May and, what, that was canceled?

GARNER: We were going to like I said de-Baathify them and bring back the army and have an interim government, start a constitutional process not later than July 1 because we wanted, I wanted, to get the Iraqis involved in that.  What we had was we had the Shi'ia sitting on the fence, the Sunnis hated us and the Kurds were ecstatic that we were there.  The Shi'ia for not for us and not against us.  They were just looking at us and there was a lot of reigning influence.  But the Shi'ia didn't trust us because we had incited them to rebel in '91 and then we turned our back on them.  So we did a de-Baathification and drove the Baathists underground.  We got rid of the army and probably put somewhere between 300,000-400,000 soldiers against us.  Then we got rid of the leadership groups.  So there was no Iraqi face for leadership and so went in a period of about 72 hours in my judgment from liberators to occupies.  When I went back I met with Rumsfeld on the 18th of June.  I came back on the 5th or 6th.  I met with him on the 18th of June.  I said we have made three tragic mistakes over there.  Number one, de-Baathification is so deep you will never be able to run the country because none of the technocrats have a job.  The first IEDs had just started going off.  Number two, we made huge enemies out of the Baathists, especially the Iraqi army which is still armed.  Number three, we got rid of the leadership groups so there is not Iraqi face for the Iraqi people.  But it's not too late, we can still turn that around.  Those aren't decisions that we can't turn around.  He thought a minute about that and then he said I hear you.  I think I understand what you are saying but we are where we are.  I just brought that in.

GORDON: At this point I'm going to open it up for questioners.  Again, the point of this is supposed to be focused very much on this episode of the ongoing Iraq saga, not really on contemporaneous events with the sons of Iraq or what is happening now in Baghdad.  I think there is a microphone somewhere for people who want to ask questions.  You are supposed to identify yourself when you do.  So this is your chance.  Steve.

QUESTIONER: I'm Steve Doyle(?) from the Council.  A variety of mistakes were made and then we got an insurgency.  If we had adopted more astute policies, would we have averted subsequent insurgency or were there underlying structural factors, the legacy of a generation of police state governance, sectarian and ethnic schisms?  Were there underlying structural problems in Iraq that would have brought an insurgency anyway?

GARNER: I think we could have averted an insurgency but I do think the terrorist element would have come in.  There are several things that happened.  All the criminals were released about a month, a month and a half before the war.  The terrorist elements came in mostly through Anbar province.  The first mistake is we didn't have enough force structure.  We didn't have enough force.  We went in there with 160,000-165,000.  People in the war planning called for half a million.  That the first problem.  The second problem is we didn't move fast enough when we got in there.  There is no part of the US government that goes and rebuilds nations.  We do that through contractors.  We didn't have th contractors there when we got there because the government wouldn't sign the contracts with contractors until the war started because they didn't want that leaking out in the press saying absolutely we're going to war, although everybody knew we were going to war.  So the contractors to do reconstruction and that type of thing weren't signed until after the war started.  In fact they weren't signed until April.  Then after they are signed, then all the contractors had to go build their teams, get in the queue to get over there and that, so they didn't begin showing up until mid-June and later.  So we missed a big honeymoon window that we had there where we could start making a demonstration for the people we were doing things for.  The third thing is you can't take and superimpose a Western-style democracy overnight on a Muslim country whose people, most of which have hated each other for 2,000 years.  It just isn't going to work.  A better system would have been to put them in a federal system where you had a little Shi'ia entity, a Sunni entity and you already had a Kurdish entity, and then have a central government that is fairly weak.  If we had done that, then I think we would have had averted a lot of things because we would have had in those entities had them tribally, ethnically and religiously comfortable.  Then their little paramilitary units like the Mehdi and the army and all that would have become a security force for that entity and not a security force that would try to eliminate everybody else.  So it would have built more time in there for us and over time we could have build them into a stronger government or over time they may have separated and gone their own way.  I don't (Inaudible).  We had the wrong plan.

GORDON: So Jay, is it fair to say just to sum up your response, there probably would have been an insurgency no matter what, given the dynamics in Iraq, but American mistakes provided the kindling that caused the conflagration to spread.

GARNER: I think that there would have been a minor insurgency.  I think there was always a Sunni element that was going to fight what we did.  McKiernan and Abizaid identity it in early April.  They said we are going to have more problems when we get in there because we are going to have at least a small guerrilla war against it.  They identified that early on.

QUESTIONER: Bob Lifton.  When you went and took over the command, was there any clear objective that could define as to what victory would have been, that all of you knew in front what you were aiming at and that you could tell you were achieving it at some point because we keep hearing about the victory we were going to get?

GARNER: I never saw an established national strategy for what end-state would be.  I never saw a concept of end-state.  For me and for my team, we defined in-state as if we can get the country running again, we can hand it over to Iraqis to government themselves and we think we have done the job we were hired for.  But there was never a stated strategy to do that to my knowledge.

QUESTIONER: Thank you, general, a fascinating presentation.  My name is Roland Paul(?), I'm a lawyer.  A long time ago I was in ISA at the Pentagon.  You threw out a plan that called for 500,000 and General Shinseki said a couple of hundred thousand.

GARNER: He said about 300,000-400,000.

QUESTIONER: About the same.  Then my only question would be.  You reported that Jerry Bremer kept saying there are the orders.  Did they come from Washington or did they come from Bremer?

GARNER: No.  I have to defend Jerry Bremer a little bit on that.  I think they all came over in his briefcase.  I don't think he authored any of those.  I think those were given to him.  The Shinseki thing is interesting because Shinseki went to Congress and said he would take several hundred thousand or three or four hundred thousand, the next day Secretary Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz called me and said, did you see what Shinseki said?  I said yes, I saw that.  They said, what do you think, he's not right, is he?  I said I don't know.  I said I can give you the only piece of empirical data I have.  In 1991 I commanded five percent of the real estate in Iraq.  It was all in Northern Iraq and I had 22,000 trigger pullers.  If you multiple that, you will see it's about 400,000-450,000.  So it's probably a pretty good number.  They said, thank you very much, that's all.

GORDON: Just on this episode, because I had to research this carefully, the original CENTCOM plan, if you had gone back prior to the second Bush Administration would have indeed called for a very large force on the order of 400,000 or 500,000.  But as the plan was retooled under General Franks, it didn't call for anywhere near that amount of force.  It called actually for a very small force for what they thought would be an easy operation.  When General Shinseki made his comments, what he said was several hundred thousand, and he had been briefed the day before by a staff member of General McKiernan's command who I late interviewed.  They were kind of doing their back-of-the-envelope, what do we need really to try to control this country?  They said several hundred thousand.  So I think Shinseki was drawing on that briefing, on his Bosnia experience, and in answering this question in the Congressional forum he never really made this case strongly internally.  What he did was when he was in the White House and President Bush asked him was this plan okay, he said it's executable if you flow the entire of what they called a tit-fit list of forces.  It was his assumption then that that would give him the force he never.  But I don't recall him ever, what he never really did is say this plan can't be executed the way they are going about it.  Next question.

QUESTIONER: Edward Dwyer(?).  I'm not clear on the responsibility.  You talk about political conflict between the secretary of state and Rumsfeld.  You say that Rumsfeld's call said the President insisted on it and you advise Rumsfeld.  Where in fact is the planning done and the decisions made?

GARNER: For?  You're not talking about the military planning?

QUESTIONER: No.  Not military planning.

GORDON: The civilian post-war.

QUESTIONER: Yeah.

GARNER: As far as I know from what I saw and what I experienced, the planning was done inside each inner agency in the vertical stove-pipe of that inner agency.  What Rumsfeld told me when I first got there was he said, they will tell you there has not been much planning but there has been a lot of planning.  He said the problem is it's all vertical and none of it is horizontal.  He said in the time that you have try to do the horizontal connectivity and operationalize the plans.  But the plans were all done within the framework of each inner agency.  There was not one.  What we tried to do in the few weeks we had was to meld those together.  That's a good question.  I'm not sure I know the answer.

QUESTIONER: I think my best ever to sort this out is there was an inner agency structure in fact and Frank Miller and the NSE presided over it and actually did a fair amount of planning for those crises which did not emerge, which is they expected thousands and thousands of displaced people and refugees.  They expected there would be food shortages, dams would be blown up, things that never transpired.  They planed for things that didn't occur.  So there was some inner agency planning but then there was a very important step, which Jay mentioned in his presentation, which is that in January of '03 President Bush, at the request of Don Rumsfeld, signed an order which gave the Defense Department the lead responsibility not only in waging the war but in administering Iraq after the war.  This I don't think had happened since the WWII.  It wasn't what occurred in Afghanistan just a year or so prior.  The Defense Department's argument was the State Department had messed up Afghanistan, we need unity of command, give it to us, we will do it right.  In theory, Ambassador Bremer was to report to Secretary Rumsfeld, through him to the White House.  That is how it was initially structured.  Didn't you report to Rumsfeld?

GARNER: Yeah.  I reported to Rumsfeld.  I think that is not all bad.  I think that when you go into something like that, probably the military should be in charge until you have enough stability to put an ambassador in and do that type thing.  Having said that, the problem with that is it didn't work that way because if you are going to do that, then post-war planning has to start the day of war planning.  The war planning has to consider what is going to happen in post-war, it ha to plan for that.  It has to set the conditions for that success.  You see, that didn't happen.

GORDON: To take this one step further, and then we will go to the next question, the problem was you were vesting the post-war planning in an agency that was opposed to nation building and a heavy effort in the post-war phase.  In February, when you were trying to do your planning in DC, Don Rumsfeld gave a speech in New York, February of '03, called Beyond National Building, where he made the argument that the Clinton Administration had been involved in national building in Bosnia and this had created unhealthy dependencies of that population on international institutions, and we weren't going to make that mistake again.  That Iraq in a sense was going to be kind of a tough-love situation where there was not going to be a heavy nation-building effort on the part of the United States to avoid these terrible dependencies that would tie us down.  So that was the framework that the Defense Department had and yet that was the very agency that you were handing over the post-war planning to, and so I think the result isn't all that surprising.

QUESTIONER: Thank you.  General Zinni, who had been the CENTUM commander, was really railing away at the sense that he had that 10 years of military planning, I heard him say many times, was just ignored, including a lot of what he called phase-four planning, which is a post-war planning.  Was there not that kind of planning effort that had been done and completed that might have provided some guidelines?  Was that completely ignored in this because it's in the post-war period that all the things seem to have unraveled and he was very, very critical of that and felt that all of this planning had been ignored.

GARNER: He was right.  What Tony Zinni did is as he left CENTCOM and handed it over to Tommy Franks, he handed over essentially a plan that called for half-a-million troops and it had post-war planning in it.  The post-war planning, by the way, was the military post-war planning.  It didn't really do detailed planning for the inner agency.  In Zinni's plan, the one that he handed over, the war plan allowed for the post-war effort to work.  In other words, he set the conditions for that.  Now, let me defend Tommy Franks for a minute.  What happened to Tommy Franks, I think, is they wore him down.  He didn't roll but Tommy Franks finally agreed on a smaller force but in agreeing on a smaller force he was promised two things.  He was promised a huge constabulary, international constabulary, for law and order and he was promised we would bring back the Iraqi army, at least about 300,000 of them.  So with those two promises then, and I think he saw his way to take the force down, which turned out he didn't get the constabulary force and they got rid of the Iraqi army.  So he was left holding the bag.

GORDON: General Zinni, I talked to him about this.  He was obviously opposed to the invasion of Iraq but he was concerned about a scenario in which Saddam Hussein's regime imploded and that the Americans would be stuck with the undesirable task of occupying Iraq, like it or not.  He had this because there was an air attack that Clinton ordered toward the end, I think in '98, where there was some intelligence they received that the regime was shaky.  I don't know how valid that intelligence was given where the other intelligence was.  So what he did was he convened a war game actually called Desert Crossing to try to identify what you would need to do to run Iraq if this came to pass.  It was toward the end of the Clinton Administration.  But occupying Iraq and taking on this burden and toppling Saddam was not near the top of the things to do for the Clinton Administration, so he wasn't able to pull together a really serious inner agency effort to do this.  On General Franks, one of the real ironies here is General Franks was the top Army Deputy to Tony Zinni.  It was Tony Zinni who nominated him as a good successor.  I have a less charitable view.  I just think that he got persuaded.  He discovered a new way of warfare and really was paid far too much attention to what they called phase three, the march to Baghdad, and very little attention to phase four, as evident in that April 16th intervention where he says take risk going out.

GARNER: There was a pretty famous statement made in 1991 by a very important government official that I can't recite exactly which most historian and scholars, not hit intended, have tended to overlooked.  But this fellow said, how do you go into Iraq?  Why would you go into Iraq?  What do you do when you get to Baghdad?  Are you going to have a Sunni regime?  Are you going to have a Shi'ia regime?  Are you going to have Kurdish regime?  Whatever regime you have, are they going to like us?  Are we going to run it for them?  If we run it for them, how do we get out of there?  I just don't understand why we would do that.  That was Dick Cheney in '91.  That was before he drank the Kool-Aid.

GORDON: Right.  I interviewed for a book I did on the Persian Gulf War called The General's War.  I then interviewed Dick Cheney, who was then the Secretary of Defense.  The Republican Guard had gone away and I was playing the devil's advocate and saying, what was the point at stopping the war at 100 hours since we were supposed to destroy the Republican Guard?  But in any event the conversation drifted to going into Baghdad and he turned to me and he said, and this was around June of '91.  Remember, the war ended in February.  He said, if we had gone to Baghdad we would be stuck there today.

QUESTIONER: Yes, sir.  I'm Kevin Owens(?), the army fellow here at the Council.  I fully appreciate what disbanding the Iraqi army did in creating a potential labor pool of well armed insurgents.  If the decision had not be made to disband the Iraqi army, what thought was given to reconciling Saddam Hussein's army to the Iraqi people as a legitimate institution of Iraqi sovereignty, particularly where they probably viewed it in two categories - incompetent and the instrument of a despotic dictator?

GARNER: Well, that is half true, Kevin.  In some respects the Iraqi army was a little bit admired, according to where you were standing in Iraq.  But our plan was we wouldn't bring back any generals, very few colonels, and bringing them back from out lieutenant down.  We would never have put any of them up north around the Kurds and we would have been careful how we positioned them based on their content of those units how we would have positioned them in the south.  We would use them mainly in Baghdad and on the border because the border was porous as you know.  You've been there.  Every kilometer there are three or four ammunition dumps that nobody is guarding.  So that is where all the IUDs come from.  Our plan initially was to use them to help seal the border.  That gets them away from people.  Use them in Baghdad for static security, where they are more accepted in Baghdad than anywhere else, and then use them in places where we have to guard things like the hundreds and hundreds of ammunition dumps that are there.  Then that would have given us the time to vet them and put them through what we thought was a constructive retraining process and then bring new people in the army and all that had we kept the formations and had structures to do it.  But that is a double-edged sword when you try to do something like that.  You are right on that.

GORDON: Jay, let me ask you a follow-up on that good question.  Ambassador Bremer argues that he had no choice but to disband the army because Saddam's army was unacceptable to the Kurds and that they would never have accepted a force like this and plus it would have been dominated by Sunni generals the Shi'ia would have refused to participate.  Based on your experience with the Kurds, how do you assess that argument?

GARNER: Well, number one, we would never had put them up with the Kurds.  You didn't need to.  The Kurds had the best army in Iraq.

GORDON: He argues that the Kurds would never have accepted Saddam's army as the national army of Iraq.

GARNER: I had a lot of discussions with the Kurds and they didn't like it but they never said they wouldn't accept it.  Neither Talabani or Barzani ever told me they wouldn't accept it.  Both of them said, we don't want them up here, we don't want them up north.  I said, they will never come up north.

QUESTIONER: Irene Meister.  In all your planning, general, and other plannings that you have mentioned on all levels, how much real indepth attention was paid to the existence of such long-range problems that Sunnis and Shi'ias had in Iraq because they were just kept together in the country by dictatorship?  How much really was dedicated to see what could be done and what would happen if it was not done?

GARNER: I don't think much, and that's a good question.  Inside my little team, we thought that was a volatile mixture.  Number one, the Sunni would never accept majority leadership from the majority Shi'ia.  The Shi'ia would never return to Sunni leadership and the Kurds hated both of them and would never accept a leadership (Inaudible).  So we said what makes sense to us is a federal system with a weak central government because, like I said earlier, if you put them each in their own little sandbox there where they are ethnically, tribally and religiously somewhat comfortable and they will find their own leaders inside that sandbox, and you will never find one leader that they all agree with in Baghdad, and the Sunni are the only ones that accept control out of Baghdad.  The Shi'ia and the Kurds don't.  So we said let's just separate them but still put in a central government and over time they may come together closer, over time they may split apart.  But hopefully you avert all these problems of 2,000 years of hatred.

GORDON: Any other questions?  I would like to ask one.  If you had it to do over again, first of all, would you have taken the job in the first place?  Second of all, what would you really have done differently if you had had the opportunity to go into this with a better sense of what the challenges in Iraq were?  How would you have designed the effort?

GARNER: That depends on what point in time you come into it.  But if you have a blank sheet of paper.

GORDON: A blank sheet of paper?  Let's say they followed your recommendation, which is that on the day you start planning the offensive operation, instead of waiting a full year to think about what you do after you win, you actually simultaneously begin planning the post-war phase.  What would you have done?

GARNER: I would have put a team together with Dave McKiernan's team.  I would have had me report to the President.  He can report to Sec Def.  I would establish money that I controlled.

GORDON: Spending money was a problem for you?

GARNER: Any money was a problem for me.  I had at one point $6 billion, that the first George Bush had frozen.  It was Iraqi money.  Hell, I had to drag every dollar across the table and justify it in order to spend it.  I had to put more justification on spending Iraq's money that I ever had to put on spending US government money when I was a general with appropriated funds.  I would have had a pile of money there that I could have used immediately.  I would have taken a long time to bring in the right cultural and regional experts and the right linguists to come with us.  I would have made sure that we had contractors immediately when we started.  I would have gone to Congress and had them put a fund together so that we could start the burn rate right away to hire contractors because you have to have them.  What we should have done, I would have insisted that as we occupied Baghdad, we took that four-star and he came to Baghdad and that's where he lived.  What I would have done really is taken John Abizaid, promoted him, brought him into Baghdad, made him a sub-unified commander.  I would have been his civilian deputy and Dave McKiernan would have been his military deputy and we would have solved all the problems together like that.  But we never had that cohesiveness.

GORDON: So if you were asked, is a task like this simply beyond the capacity of the United States?

GARNER: No.

GORDON: To properly organize and execute or did we just not do it as smart as we should have done it?  You're in the latter school.

GARNER: We just didn't do it.  The probably with the government, including the military, is you do well those things you are tested on, and we don't test the government on this kind of stuff.  Our troops go out to the national training center and they fight and kill everybody, but they don't do anything in nation building out there.  And the inner agency works in the inner agency and they don't really practice as a cohesive unit doing any nation building.  What we really need to do is we probably need to have a small umbrella organization that brings these people together about once a year and you exercise them and you have lessons learned and that type thing.  Until we start doing that I don't think we will botch anything as bad as this but we will still have major problems.

GORDON: I would like to thank you.

GARNER: I want to thank you.  I appreciate all of you coming.  Thank you very much.  (Applause)

 

 

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