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Last Updated: Monday, 22 March, 2004, 17:42 GMT
General Jay Garner
One of the criticisms laid at the door of the Coalition over Iraq is that it was capable of winning the war, but not the peace.

This week the new Spanish Prime minister promised to withdraw his troops unless the UN took over what he described as the "chaotic occupation" - a suggestion firmly rejected by Donald Rumsfeld.

But confounding the idea that America was ill prepared for the huge challenge of a post Saddam Iraq, in an exclusive interview General Jay Garner, formerly in charge of reconstruction, told Greg Palast, preparations were begun as early as 2001, after the fall of the Taliban.


I have got about 220 people on this aeroplane with me, so I have a little less than 300 people to try to go in, sometime in the near future and begin the post-war process in Iraq. I don't know the degree to which we'll have the humanitarian crisis - it could be a very large one. He could set the oilfields on fire, which would be a huge problem. If the war lingers, and is not quick, then the public servants that run the country now will be dispersed and we'll have a hard time getting those back. So I had a lot of - my thoughts were all the problems that we could have.

One year ago, General Jay Garner flew into the Middle East as, in effect, American's first viceroy to oversee a new Iraq. In his back pocket a detailed plan from the Bush administration.

All I can tell you is the plans were pretty elaborate. 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.

Behind the programme, Garner described Washington's long-term vision of Iraq as a political and military base in the Middle East, modelled on America's control of the Pacific in the 20th century.

We used the Philippines. The Philippines for the lack of a better term was in essence a cooling station for the navy. It allowed the US Navy to maintain a great presence in the Pacific. I think it is a bad analogy but we should look right now as Iraq as our cooling station in the Middle East where we have some presence there and it gives us a settling effect there and it also, though, gives us a strategic advantage there. 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. 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 criticise what we are doing right now. What we are 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.

Garner says his desire for quick elections conflicted with the Bush administration's economic timetable. Even as they battled to put out oilfield fires, Washington pushed a timetable for privatising oil and other industries.

I think we as Americans - and this isn't sepia - just we as Americans we tend to like to put our template on things, and our template is good for us, but it is not necessarily good for everybody else. TE Lawrence has a great saying - I wish I could repeat it exactly, I can't, but it goes something like this: "It is 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." I think that's good advice.

While Iraqis 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.

I just think that we're better by establishing a government and re-establishing basic services and getting things picked up, and letting that government through their own electoral process decide what's good for their country.

Let them decide whether to privatise the oilfields?


Garner's work with the Kurds after the last Gulf War made him concerned that plans to sell off their oil would generate resistance.

I think you would be hard pressed to go up north and convince the Kurds they had to be privatised. You can convince the Kurds that they ought to own the oilfields, but the privatisation, I don't think you could convince them of that. 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?

I knew that the night I got to Baghdad, Secretary Rumsfeld called me and told me that the President was appointing Jerry Bremer as the presidential envoy. That was always in the plans that we would have a Presidential envoy and it was always in the plans that I was a temporary guy. So, I think what happened is that the announcement of Ambassador Bremer was somewhat abrupt. It appeared abrupt to everybody on the outside, I think everybody on the inside knew it was happening, so they made a lot of assumptions on that.

One year on, the General still worries about the cost of putting economic programmes before democratic elections.

I'm a believer that you don't want to end the day with more enemies than you started with.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.


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