On Point: Garner's Media Woes: When Will They Learn

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 March2003 and -- for that matter -- of October 2001.

Garner's reconstruction effort is already in trouble with mediafingerwaggers. Never mind that gunfire continues to sputter. Why, Garnerlacks sufficient personnel, there's infighting at the Pentagon -- shucks,his plan is flawed.

Heard it before? Sure, track back three weeks with the likes ofThe New York Times' R.W. Apple excoriating Central Command. ReconstructingIraq has barely begun, but the critical piling-on is already in progress.One horror among the usual cranks is Garner has oil industry contacts andhe's retired military. Of course, anyone with a knack for the obvious knowsboth knocks are welcome assets, given Iraq's petroleum reserves and the iffysecurity situation. The cranks appear to prefer Garner be a Marxistsociology prof with a 'stop the war" tattoo on his tongue.

Everyone familiar with what the military calls civil affairsoperations knows the task is difficult. It's time consuming, fraught withsetbacks that surprise and frustrate even experienced pros. Garner's teams,backed by military forces, must conduct security patrols, pump water, fixroads and bring law to a land scarred by lawlessness.

The task includes reconciliation and education. As one Iraqiexile told me years ago, "We are all implicated by the regime." Hisadmission echoes that of many East Germans after the end of the Cold War.East Germany's secret police had kids ratting out parents, neighborimplicating neighbor. Gossip could get you jailed or killed. Iraq is arepetition of that story, and personal guilt, distrust and anger run deep.

This plays out at the ethnic level. Many Kurds and Arab Shiasswear Baghdad's Sunnis benefited from Saddam's dictatorship, though the listof Sunnis tortured and killed by the regime is as long as it is hideous. Thetask isn't simply "de-Baathization," it's de-traumatization andre-orientation. Garner has to help create political and economicmechanisms -- foster a faith in a better, obtainable future -- that willbuffer these inevitable collisions.

Iraqis and Garner first discussed Garner's 13-point outline forIraq's reconstruction at a meeting held in the ancient city of Ur. Ur hasresonance. The biblical patriarch Abraham called Ur his hometown. Urconnects cultural origins common to West and Middle East.

The "Ur-Plan" for Iraq stipulates that the nation must bedemocratic. 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 ashattered nation emerging from a socio-pathic dictatorship? What does itmean to a Shia influenced by Iranian ayatollahs who assert that their harshinterpretation of shaaria law are the only rules?

Rule of law, of course, means the rule of secular law. UCLA lawprofessor Khaled Abou El Fadl, writing in the Wall Street Journal, arguedthat Iraq's rich pre-Baath legacy of "jurisprudential experience" is ahopeful start, though he acknowledged the tension between civil law based onEuropean models and "personal law" rooted in Islam. Other Iraqi exiles claimthat the Iraqi people are eager for change. A fair distribution of oilincome will literally grease the path to democracy.

Garner's and the Iraqi people's task is truly a 21st centuryendeavor. Their sweat, vision and spine must surmount some of the 20thcentury's worst fascist and socialist depredations, while finessing 12thcentury religious attitudes. They must accomplish this under the harsh gazeof an insistent, antsy media with biases to feed and ratings to spur.

For the sake of Iraq's people, better put some patient, credibleminds behind that media gaze. How many critics got Afghanistan and OperationIraqi Freedom dead wrong? Where are the massive civilian casualties and thequagmire 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 onlyfollowing years of sustained effort.

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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