Jay Garner

Remember the former chief of Iraq reconstruction? Well, he reemerges in today’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and tries his hand at constructive criticism:

A Truman Doctrine for Iraq

[…] For every likely outcome in Iraq, the United States must have a plan. And, just as important, it must have a clear sense of who is leading U.S. interests in Iraq.

Who’s in charge?

Frankly, I couldn’t tell you who’s in charge right now. Come hell or high water, though, that blurry leadership must become sharply focused after the election.

If the best-case scenario happens — that is, most Iraqis participate in the election, violence is controlled and the voting is reasonably free and fair — it will not create an opening for the United States to declare “mission accomplished” and bring its troops home. Other outcomes, such as an upsurge in violence or a total collapse of the emerging Iraqi system, also are possibilities.

President George W. Bush should be drafting detailed plans to deal with any of those outcomes, with an emphasis on ending unwanted foreign intervention, encouraging political viability and stabilizing the economy.

In any event, he should declare the equivalent of a Truman Doctrine. The Bush Doctrine for Iraq would tell neighboring, meddlesome nations such as Syria and Iran in unequivocal terms that they had better stay out of Baghdad’s affairs — or else. That would give Iraqis a chance to figure out where they are headed politically.

The Bush administration should give up on its unworkable idea of a strong national government in Iraq and publicly embrace the only system that is likely to work: a weak federal arrangement with several largely autonomous provinces that allows Iraq’s multiple ethnic and religious groups — the Sunnis, the Shia and the Kurds — control over their own communities. In addition, the administration should be hands-on in the development of an Iraqi constitution that guarantees minority rights.

Read the whole piece, which includes other policy proposals. I have questions about some of them (how, for instance, are we supposed to administer Garner’s program of providing “$1,000 to each Iraqi family in return for a peaceful gesture”?), but by and large, I think that they’re worthy of consideration.

In particular, the federalism solution is sound. As democracy scholars like Carl Gershman have noted, such arrangements tend to work in countries with large constituencies, extensive territories, linguistic fragmentations, and cultural divisions. In India, which has a billion residents, sixteen official languages, and four religions claiming at least 20 million followers, federalism has defused insurgent activities within the Sikh and Tamil communities. Malaysia has dealt with secessionist movements in Sabah and Sarawak, which have 35 and 27 ethnic groups respectively, by allowing the states to enjoy greater autonomy. Similarly, Iraq can probably benefit from the “weak federal arrangement” described in the op-ed.

Garner faults the Bush administration for its attachment to the “unworkable idea of a strong national government,” but his criticism should be tempered by two considerations. First, if he questions the wisdom of a national-assembly election (as seems to be the case), then the following New York Times report should figure into the discussion:

U.S. Is Haunted by Initial Plan for Iraq Voting

According to officials planning the election, the decision was driven by the realities of an unstable Iraq and the unrelenting pressure to speed the country to a vote by the end of January 2005, as demanded by many Iraqis. To make that deadline, it was believed, there was no time to conduct a census or go through the politically divisive chore of drawing district lines.

A national constituency also made it easier to meet the demands of the former exiles installed in power in Baghdad to let millions of Iraqis living outside the country vote, and the demands of others to ensure that 25 percent of the legislators were women. The experts reasoned that it would be much easier to find women for slates running nationwide than for each of many smaller districts.

“We looked at a lot of alternatives and presented them to the Iraqis and everyone else,” said an official involved in the decision-making process. “Basically, a nationwide constituency solved a lot of problems and made our lives a lot easier.”

Rather than unilaterally imposing a national-assembly election, the administration seems to have done its best with the available resources and time, and even attained Iraqi and UN support to boot. The plan may ultimately backfire — we’ll have to wait and see — but it does attempt to address Garner’s very concerns in a different way.

Second, while he now shows admirable support for federalism, Garner wasn’t always the greatest of advocates during his tenure. According to Slate, he disappointed Kurdish leaders with his “refusal to say the word ‘federal.'” He may have been under orders to show restraint, but it does make one wonder how much he tried to influence the policy process.

FILED UNDER: Democracy, Iraq War, , , , , , , , , , ,
Robert Garcia Tagorda
About Robert Garcia Tagorda
Robert blogged prolifically at OTB from November 2004 to August 2005, when career demands took him in a different direction. He graduated summa cum laude from Claremont McKenna College with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and earned his Master in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.


  1. Khavurta Yohannan says:

    Jay Garner was responsible for setting up the northern no-fly zone after the first Gulf War and one of his first acts as a “pro-consul” appointee in 2003 was to head north to a pasha’s welcome by the Kurds.
    The Kurds have nothing to complain about Gen. Garner: he pampered and appeased them while letting the most important areas of Iraq, the central and south, languish. He set the tone for the American presence: pro-Kurdish and suspect. Will the US ever be able to reverse the reality, or the impression, that we favor the Kurds above all in Iraq even though their system of government currently most resembles the autocratic system of the Baathists?

    Take the recent elections in Mosul as example: Mas’ud Barzani’s Kurdish Democratic Party, after failing to force and cajole the ChaldoAssyrians of the Nineveh Plains to register as Kurds and members of his party, simply denied them the right to vote by making sure that neither from Mosul nor Arbil, ballots arrived for 150,000 eligible voters.

    This and more strong arm tactics, are encouraged by poorly documented ideas about the feasability of federalism, by just such people as Gen Garner. Kurds want a Greater Iraqi Kurdistan to rule. That will only come at the price of eliminating the indigenous, Aramaic-speaking Christians of the area, the ChaldoAssyrians. No, federalism as imagined by the Kurds will not work. Let’s look instead at the Italian Tyrol model with regional guarantees.

    The entire Middle East has these kinds of minority problems: federalism is too simplistic a solution. Something far more indigenous and regional will have to be considered, and well.