As noted earlier, former Gen. Jay Garner was appointed Director of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Iraq by Dubya and Rummy in January 2003 before the Iraq war started. This describes Garner’s first cabinet meeting:
(pp. 131-132)Garner comes across as a pretty astute man who didn’t take any BS, by the way, so my guess is that Garner would be absolutely right about Ashcroft in this case (also because this appeared to be a typical circumstance for Ashcroft anyway).
Six weeks into his assignment, Garner went to the White House, mid-morning on Friday, February 28, 2003, to meet President Bush for the first time and brief him on what his team had been doing. Waiting outside the situation room, where the president and the war cabinet were meeting, Garner recognized Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Looks like we’re both out of the loop, Garner said nervously, trying to break the ice.
Ashcroft responded with what Garner thought was a “go to hell” look.
In the Situation Room, Garner took a seat at the far end of a small, well-polished table. The president was at the other end, with the principals seated alongside, including Powell, Rumsfeld, Rice, and (former Director of Central Intelligence George) Tenet. General (Tommy) Franks was also there, and Cheney was on a secure video teleconference screen. Frank Miller, director of the NSC staff for defense, was in the middle of a briefing. Garner was nervous. He could see the president had no idea who the hell he was.Somehow I have a feeling that, if Clinton asked someone in a meeting with other Cabinet members to “tell us about himself or herself” and former Defense Secretaries Bill Cohen or Bill Perry had stood up and said, “No, I’m going to tell you about him (or her),” then Clinton would have made sure that Perry or Cohen would have been walking differently by the end of the meeting, if you know what I mean.
As Miller talked, Bush shifted his attention between Miller and Garner, staring intently at Miller, and then glancing quickly at Garner, before turning back to Miller. Then again, a quick look at Garner before turning back to Miller. Then a third time.
This is going to be a long day, Garner thought. Somewhat out of the blue, Bush flashed a high-in-the-air thumbs up sign at Garner. Garner instantly felt better. He thought the president sensed his discomfort and was trying to put him at ease.
“Okay, what’s next?” the president asked when Miller finished.
“General Garner’s in the postwar planning group,” Rice said, “And he’s going to brief you on that.”
“Before you do that,” the president said, “tell me about yourself.”
“No, I’m going to tell you about him,” Rumsfeld interrupted, and summarized Garner’s Army service, his success in Operation Provide Comfort, and his service on Rumsfeld’s space commission (prior to Garner’s Iraq work; the commission studied space-based and missile threats).
“That’s fine,” Bush said. And then to Garner: “Go ahead” (Garner then briefed everyone on Iraq postwar plans to date).
I think Woodward’s interpretation of Bush’s action towards Garner is probably accurate, though. Dubya is somewhat cagey in the ways of the world or else he wouldn’t have gotten into a position where he could be installed as president, though he has obviously come up thoroughly short in that duty throughout his failed presidency.
No, this isn’t a particularly earth-shattering revelation, but this moment in Woodward’s book speaks volumes to me about how the total vacuum at the top of the chain of leadership in our government (with certainty replaced for analysis and interpretation of the evidence at hand) has contributed to the horror of the mismanaged Iraq war.
And there are plenty of other moments described in detail that foretell the ruinous reality we currently face, and I’ll try to get to them all in due course.
Update: Upon further consideration, I thought I should let you know what happened in the meeting as Woodward described it through the end of the chapter, to really get an idea of the disconnects prior to the commencement of the war…
Garner passed around copies of the handout, an 11-point presentation, and dove right in. Addressing his nine basic assignments in NSPD-24, Garner said essentially that four of them shouldn’t be his because they were plainly beyond the capabilities of his small team. The four tasks included dismantling WMD, defeating terrorists, reshaping the Iraqi military and reshaping the other internal Iraqi security institutions. In other words, four of the really hard ones. They would have to be handled by the military, Garner said.It gets even more interesting than this when Woodward discusses what Garner and his team run into in Iraq, as well as the whole process of bringing Paul Bremer into this mess and all of Bremer’s screwups.
The president nodded. No one else intervened, though Garner had just told them that he couldn’t be responsible for crucial postwar tasks – the ones that had the most to do with the stated reasons for going to war in the first place – because his team couldn’t do them.
No one asked the follow up question of exactly who would be responsible, if Garner wasn’t. Were the issues going to be left hanging in the air? Were they important? Maybe Garner was wrong. Maybe he could or should have those issues. The import of what he had said seemed to sail over everyone’s heads.
Garner next described how he intended to divide the country into regional groups, and moved onto the interagency plans.
“Just a minute,” the president interrupted. “Where are you from?”
“Why do you talk like that?” he asked, apparently trying to place Garner’s accent.
“Because I was born and raised on a ranch in Florida. My daddy was a rancher.”
“You’re in,” the First Rancher said approvingly. His brother Jeb was the governor of the state, and the president visited regularly.
Garner went on, explaining that each department and agency had to “operationalize” its plan and have a “vision” about its end state, particularly for the first 30 days to one year.
He raised his notion of Show Stoppers, problems that might jeopardize or even stop the mission in its tracks. They were struggling for money, he said.
The president listened.
Referring to the rock drill (re: the pre-planning exercise undertaken by Garner and his staff), Garner explained how they planned to maintain stability in Iraq after combat.
Garner’s talking point was “Postwar use of Iraqi Regular Army.” He said, “We’re going to use the army. We need to use them. They have the proper skill sets.”
How many from the army? Someone asked.
“I’m going to give you a big range,” Garner answered. “It will be between 200,000 and 300,000.”
Garner looked around the room. All the heads were bobbing north and south. Nobody challenged. Nobody had any questions about this plan.
Next, Garner said he wanted to internationalize the postwar effort. Immediately, he noticed some discomfort in the room. Not from Powell, but from most of the others. He thought there was a lot of squirming going on, and Garner figured most of the others were thinking, Don’t you get it? We’re not trying to internationalize this thing. It’s a U.S. operation.
He continued, saying that he would send his advance party to the region in about 10 days, with the rest to follow 10 days later. The president didn’t say anything. No one indicated when the war might start, but it was obvious that it was coming soon.
“Thank you very much,” Bush said when Garner was done. Rice started talking about something else, so Garner figured he was dismissed. As he started to walk out of the room, the president caught his eye.
“Kick ass, Jay,” Bush said.
Garner waited for Rumsfeld outside. Soon, Bush and Rice came out and walked three or four steps past Garner. Suddenly, Bush turned back.
“Hey, if you have any problem with that governor down in Florida, just let me know,” he said.