by Austin Bay
April 23, 2003
According to his critics, Jay Garner is already Tommy Franks.
No, I don"t mean the Gen. Franks of April 2003, but the Gen. Franks of March
2003 and -- for that matter -- of October 2001.
Garner's reconstruction effort is already in trouble with media
fingerwaggers. Never mind that gunfire continues to sputter. Why, Garner
lacks sufficient personnel, there's infighting at the Pentagon -- shucks,
his plan is flawed.
Heard it before? Sure, track back three weeks with the likes of
The New York Times' R.W. Apple excoriating Central Command. Reconstructing
Iraq has barely begun, but the critical piling-on is already in progress.
One horror among the usual cranks is Garner has oil industry contacts and
he's retired military. Of course, anyone with a knack for the obvious knows
both knocks are welcome assets, given Iraq's petroleum reserves and the iffy
security situation. The cranks appear to prefer Garner be a Marxist
sociology prof with a 'stop the war" tattoo on his tongue.
Everyone familiar with what the military calls civil affairs
operations knows the task is difficult. It's time consuming, fraught with
setbacks that surprise and frustrate even experienced pros. Garner's teams,
backed by military forces, must conduct security patrols, pump water, fix
roads and bring law to a land scarred by lawlessness.
The task includes reconciliation and education. As one Iraqi
exile told me years ago, "We are all implicated by the regime." His
admission echoes that of many East Germans after the end of the Cold War.
East Germany's secret police had kids ratting out parents, neighbor
implicating neighbor. Gossip could get you jailed or killed. Iraq is a
repetition of that story, and personal guilt, distrust and anger run deep.
This plays out at the ethnic level. Many Kurds and Arab Shias
swear Baghdad's Sunnis benefited from Saddam's dictatorship, though the list
of Sunnis tortured and killed by the regime is as long as it is hideous. The
task isn't simply "de-Baathization," it's de-traumatization and
re-orientation. Garner has to help create political and economic
mechanisms -- foster a faith in a better, obtainable future -- that will
buffer these inevitable collisions.
Iraqis and Garner first discussed Garner's 13-point outline for
Iraq's reconstruction at a meeting held in the ancient city of Ur. Ur has
resonance. The biblical patriarch Abraham called Ur his hometown. Ur
connects cultural origins common to West and Middle East.
The "Ur-Plan" for Iraq stipulates that the nation must be
democratic. The future government should not be based on communal identity.
The rule of law must be paramount. But what does the rule of law mean to a
shattered nation emerging from a socio-pathic dictatorship? What does it
mean to a Shia influenced by Iranian ayatollahs who assert that their harsh
interpretation of shaaria law are the only rules?
Rule of law, of course, means the rule of secular law. UCLA law
professor Khaled Abou El Fadl, writing in the Wall Street Journal, argued
that Iraq's rich pre-Baath legacy of "jurisprudential experience" is a
hopeful start, though he acknowledged the tension between civil law based on
European models and "personal law" rooted in Islam. Other Iraqi exiles claim
that the Iraqi people are eager for change. A fair distribution of oil
income will literally grease the path to democracy.
Garner's and the Iraqi people's task is truly a 21st century
endeavor. Their sweat, vision and spine must surmount some of the 20th
century's worst fascist and socialist depredations, while finessing 12th
century religious attitudes. They must accomplish this under the harsh gaze
of an insistent, antsy media with biases to feed and ratings to spur.
For the sake of Iraq's people, better put some patient, credible
minds behind that media gaze. How many critics got Afghanistan and Operation
Iraqi Freedom dead wrong? Where are the massive civilian casualties and the
quagmire in the sand? Spin it to me again, about Vietnam in Baghdad?
The Iraqi people have been freed from a despicable tyranny.
Creating a resilient democracy will take time, with success or failure only
following years of sustained effort.