National Journal's CongressDailyAM
December 4, 2006

Forward Observer

General Garner's Lament

When it comes to Iraq, Lt. Gen. Jay Garner has been there, done that for 15 years, so his new plan for getting out of the mess there might be worth listening to.

"You couldn't have gotten the 10 most brilliant men and women in America to design a way for us to fail in Iraq that would have been any better than what we have done on our own," lamented Garner, whom President Bush dispatched to Iraq to heal the country only to stand aside as Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III gutted the very post-combat pacification program that Garner had gotten the president to approve.

"I was never able to find out," Garner answered when I asked him where Bremer got the authority to reverse the presidentially approved plan shortly after taking over from the retired three-star general in Baghdad in May 2003. Garner's plan called for keeping most of the Iraqi army intact rather than send thousands of troopers home with rifles but no jobs and to allow Iraqi school teachers and other vital professionals to keep working even if they had been forced to join Saddam Hussein's Baathist party.

"He just did it," Garner said of Bremer's scrapping of those two major parts of the general's master plan for putting Iraq back together again after Saddam fell. "Maybe Bush didn't know he was doing it."

But Garner, in an interview with CongressDaily, said he still thinks Iraq could be pulled back from the edge of the cliff if the United States launches a crash effort. The new Garner plan, one that strikes me as a lot more down and dirty and less lofty and vague than what we have learned so far about the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report going to Bush Wednesday, calls for taking these emergency steps right now:

*"Robustly" train, re-equip with American modern arms rather than Warsaw Pact junk and advise all 120 Iraqi army battalions with American combat veterans rather than neophytes.

*Assign to each Iraqi battalion 20 to 25 American advisers, all combat tested, from the Army or the Marine Corps. The American advisory team would consist of a lieutenant colonel as its commander; a captain or major experienced in supplying beans and bullets, called a logistician; an artillery forward observer to call in artillery or air support; a radio operator; a medic; a captain and five sergeants with each of the three Iraqi companies in the battalion.

*Structure the career paths of American advisers so they are rewarded if they make the Iraqi battalion battle ready and penalized if they do not.

*Once the American advisory team certified the Iraqi battalion was combat ready, it would be inserted with that same battalion in a contested area now occupied by an American battalion. The advisory team would stick with the Iraqi battalion. It would have a quick channel for calling in helicopter gunships, fighter bombers, artillery fire and medical evacuation choppers with minimal delay. Pickup points for the medevacs would be established.

*The relieved American battalion would stay intact but be redeployed in some nearby peaceful area. The Americans would stay there for several months as a 911 rescue force. If the Iraqi battalion demonstrated it could do the job on its own, the Americans would leave Iraq. "So you have a two-phased redeployment," Garner said. "In the first phase you get the U. S. faces off the street, but they stay in Iraq. In the second phase, they leave Iraq."

*Gerrymander the parts of the country outside of Baghdad into three regions, drawn up in accordance with referenda asking the citizens the kind of regional government they preferred to live under: Shia, Sunni or Kurd. Each region would have its own governor and para-military force to protect its facilities and citizens. The federal constitution would remain in force but be strengthened to make sure Iraq's oil revenues were apportioned to every area of the country on the basis of population.

"You're never going to find a leader for Iraq whom everybody is happy with," Garner contended, on the basis of dealing with the Iraqis since 1991 when he was an Army officer protecting the Kurds in Iraq's mountains. "But if you split Iraq into regions whose governments are elected, you'll find leaders everybody coalesces around, like Massoud Barzani up north in Kurdistan."

Garner, who served two tours as a U.S. Army adviser to the South Vietnamese army, thinks the shoddy way the Iraqi army is being equipped is nothing less than a national disgrace. He said Pentagon friends still on active duty say it is common for an American adviser who has never been in combat to leave an Iraqi compound in a heavily armored and heavily armed Humvee, only to be followed by the Iraqi commander, a veteran of several wars, seated in a beat-up Toyota pickup truck.

"I would re-equip the entire Iraqi army," Garner said, first by having departing American units leave their weapons with the Iraqis and later by turning out military hardware in both Iraq and the United States.

Garner has a lot more ideas for saving Iraq, and his credentials are damn good. Congressional committees desperately searching for a way out of the Iraq quagmire should give a listen to this general who has been there and done that.

By George C. Wilson