With the United States poised to invade Iraq, attention has turned to retired army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, the man set to govern the country in the event of an American military victory.
Garner — who in 1991 helped lead Operation Provide Comfort, which delivered food and shelter to Kurds in northern Iraq after the Persian Gulf War — will oversee all the civilian aid, reconstruction and governance of postwar Iraq as head of the new Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in the Pentagon, reporting to General Tommy Franks, commander of American forces in the Persian Gulf area. He left for Kuwait shortly before President Bush’s March 17 televised address.
Garner is said to maintain ties with the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening American foreign and defense policy. In 1998, he visited Israel for the first time on a trip sponsored by JINSA.
“He’s very easy to talk to; he asks a lot of questions, and he listens to the answers,” said Shoshana Bryen, director of special projects for JINSA, who participated in the trip with Garner.
In October 2000, shortly after the outbreak of the intifada, Garner was one of 26 American military leaders to sign a staunchly pro-Israel statement released by JINSA condemning the escalating violence. The statement, titled “Friends Don’t Leave Friends on the Battlefield,” lauded the Israeli army for exercising “remarkable restraint in the face of lethal violence orchestrated by the leadership of a Palestinian Authority,” and called into question the Palestinian commitment to peace.
In a reference to the signatories’ JINSA-sponsored trips to Israel, the statement said: “[I]n those travels, we brought with us our decades of military experience and came away with the unswerving belief that the security of the State of Israel is a matter of great importance to U.S. policy in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean, as well as around the world. A strong Israel is an asset that American military planners and political leaders can rely on.”
According to a report in this month’s Fortune magazine, which dubbed Garner “the most important businessman you’ve never heard of,” Garner retired as a three-star general in 1997 to become president of a provider of communications and targeting systems for missiles that was bought last year by defense contractor L-3 Communications for a reported $48 million.
Since his Pentagon appointment in January, Garner has kept a low profile, to the dismay of some. He caused a minor fracas last week when he canceled a scheduled appearance before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. The Associated Press reported that Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, who criticized the Bush administration for moving too slowly in developing plans to rebuild Iraq, highlighted Garner’s absence, calling the cancellation “a missed opportunity for the administration.”