He might have the toughest detail this war has to offer. Jay Garner, the retired Army general and former Star Wars commander, is currently holed up at a Hilton resort near Kuwait City, trying to make sense of his mission. Appointed by Donald Rumsfeld in late January as chief of the Pentagon’s controversial Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, Garner is in charge of coordinating the military’s reconstruction effort in Iraq and insuring that democracy can take hold once the last Bradley fighting vehicle rolls out of Baghdad.
But Garner, at 64, is in many ways spectacularly unsuited for the job. He won accolades for his supervision of refugee operations after the first Gulf War, but since he left military service for the military industry in 1997, Garner’s record has been checkered with charges of corporate cronyism and allegiances to neocon hawks and Israeli right-wingers. That history could make his mission a lot tougher–or even sabotage it entirely.
Garner’s duties are superhuman: to oversee planning for a new Iraqi government, supervise the construction of every water tower and school, and appease the gamut of political, religious and corporate factions clawing for Iraqi turf while winning the confidence of more than 24 million war-scarred citizens. He must also quell growing fears at the United Nations, the State Department and the CIA that Rumsfeld’s Pentagon has stolen control of postwar Iraq–and will claim the spoils of war.
Defense officials contend he’s a unique commander who shares Rumsfeld’s vision for a prominent military role in postwar peacekeeping. Garner led the Kurdish refugee campaign Operation Provide Comfort in 1991, a mission generally deemed successful by aid workers. The Kurds didn’t want Garner to leave, it was then reported, and hoisted the decorated general on their shoulders like a newborn emperor.
His résumé, however, has changed since then. While on “sabbatical” since January from SY Coleman, Iraq’s viceroy-to-be remains the paid president of this defense company, which makes components for logistical and surveillance products deployed all over Iraq.
“He’s a conflict-of-interest disaster,” says John Cavanagh, director of the Institute for Policy Studies. “Garner doesn’t know how to build democracy. He knows how to build weapons systems and kill people.” He also knows how to win big military contracts.
Curiously, only months after Garner got his new job at the Pentagon, SY Coleman’s parent company, L-3 Communications, was blessed with the group’s biggest contract to date: a $1.5 billion daisy to provide logistical services on the Iraqi frontlines and elsewhere. While it’s unclear what role Garner played in pushing that contract–an L-3 spokesman did not return calls–critics have questioned other sweetheart deals that went his way.
This past fall, federal investigators began looking at a fishy contract SY Coleman (then SY Technologies) had won from the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command, which Garner once directed, without having to bid on it. Shortly after the $48 million award was announced, it was withdrawn for lack of funds, and inspectors chose not to probe further.