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Under Secretary Feith Interview with Washington Post

Presenters: Douglas J. Feith, USD (Policy)
February 21, 2003

Post: In looking ahead [inaudible], I wanted to get a better understanding of what General Garner's role will be, and essentially that next part. We've said there will be a transition from his [inaudible] troubleshooting, whatever his role is at the present to that next stage. I think I have a fairly clear idea of the early, first few months when the military is largely in charge of providing the lead and then early reconstruction [inaudible] go in and [inaudible]. Coalition forces [inaudible].

Feith: A lot of this has to do with, as you say, how things fall. So all I can really give you are concepts rather than tell you how exactly it is going to develop.

The basic idea -- First of all I hope you understand what Garner's office is. The heart of Garner's office are three -- Are you up on this? Are three operations, each headed by a civilian coordinator. So you've got the reconstruction, humanitarian, and civil administration.

There is, if you look at the chart of the office, there's like an L. There's this box with the three offices. Then there's kind of like an L. The L is Garner and his deputy up there, and then this other column, as it were. That other column is the column that is responsible for taking these three offices and deploying them to the theater. So they're the people who handle travel, logistics, medical support and the like, comms, for the people who are going to do the substantive work. The substantive work is headed by civilians. This L that I'm describing that kind of goes across the box and down the side is, has a number of retired military guys because the issue is how do you take the people who are going to be doing the substantive work, shift them over to the area, and have them plug in to CENTCOM, so that everything works. Because even the stuff that is purely humanitarian can be done effectively only if there's security. So being linked to the security people so that you know where are the regions that are secure and where can you go and go here but don't go there. Information is everything and those linkages are crucial to the effective functioning of the work.

We are working on setting things up. I assume you know about the Monday press conference that Elliott Abrams is going to be doing.

Post: I have heard that it tentatively is happening. It is happening?

Feith: My understanding is that there's going to be a big press conference at the White House on Monday where a lot of the material on the humanitarian relief and reconstruction, I believe both relief and reconstruction, is going to be briefed. And they'll be talking about the work that they've been doing with the international organizations and the non-governmental organizations.

We're setting things up so that the NGOs that do the humanitarian work are going to be connecting to this whole operation not through the Pentagon but through USAID which is a more comfortable connection for them.

Post: You mentioned NGOs. When would they be able to go back.

Feith: Our hope would be more or less immediately. There are going to be --

Post: As areas are secured?

Feith: Precisely. As areas are liberated and secured, we would hope that we'd be able to get the humanitarian and reconstruction work underway without delay. And the willingness of the different groups to go in and do their good work will determine how many are in there.

Post: That could be even within hours or a day depending, in theory.

Feith: In theory.

Post: Hypothetically.

Feith: Yeah.

Post: Fifty miles of southern Iraq is liberated in the first couple of days, start teams go in, NGOs could, if they feel safe, if they had transportation, could go in and start working.

Feith: I don't want to say it's just a matter of if they feel safe. I mean obviously you're not going to let people go in and do something that's really reckless. But the idea is to get them in right away, and to let them organize and do their work in a way that they're comfortable with and that allows the humanitarian function to be performed.

Post: Then General Garner's role --

Feith: His main role is fitting the pieces together and allowing this operation to deploy and connect effectively with CENTCOM. In other words he is not the guy running the substantive work of the office. The substantive work is by and large going to be done by the coordinators that are under him. It's not a completely hierarchical organization where -- That's why I described it as L-shaped. You really have this box that has the three coordinators. That's the substantive work. And then you have this overlay across the top and down the sides that is pulling it all together, getting the resources -- I mean the kinds of things that he's doing. He is banging on all the agencies of the U.S. government to detail all the people that need to be detailed to work in these three main substantive columns. So he's got to call the whatever, the State Department, the Agriculture Department, whoever has got somebody that has an expertise that we need. But he's got to be doing it. He's not doing the substance of what the agricultural -- And it's not that they report to him.

Post: Thank you.

Post: This whole operation is separate from whatever will be set up to begin developing constituent assembly --

Feith: No, it's not separate. It's not separate.

The thing that is important to stress is that the work, the substance of the work that is now generally within this operation has been going on for months, long before this office was created. Part of the reason this office was created is that there was a lot of work being done on the State Department future of Iraq committees, the Elliott Abrams/Robin Cleveland chaired reconstruction efforts, humanitarian relief efforts and all that. It became clear at some point that number one, you've got to integrate this stuff. Number two, you're going to have to start pulling stuff together to make sure that you're not overlapping, to make sure that you're not conflicting. And number three, and most importantly, you've got to make sure that all of the stuff which was all basically briefings and papers can become something real on the ground, which means those people have to deploy to the country when the time comes and implement their plans. But it was that that motivated the creation of the office.

Then the idea was not that Jay Garner, coming in on January 20th to create the office, is all of the sudden going to become the substantive boss of all of this work. That's how the thing got put together.

So on the issue of the civil administration, the coordinator is going to be responsible for pulling together all of the work that has been done by the White House, the State Department, DoD, on thinking through these governance issues, and how do you set things up so that the foundation can be laid for the kind of government that the President has in mind, broad-based, representative government building on democratic institutions and the like. A government that will be humane to its own people and not a threat to its neighbors, not have WMD, not support terrorism, all those kinds of things that we've laid out as principles. He is laying the foundation for that, and moving as quickly as possible to a situation where the Iraqis can govern themselves. We're not looking to govern the country.

Post: So that pillar also is underway right away.

Feith: Yes.

Post: And so that civil administrator will be under your supervision or soon will be, he will exist when this time comes, and it's not. . . it's more a parallel development rather than sequential development.

Feith: Yeah, and to tell you the truth what we envision is not a process that will have a lot of bright lines but a process that will be kind of more natural and jagged. Certain functions within the country might easily be passed off as quickly as possible to Iraqi control and other functions you can imagine would take longer.

One can imagine that setting Iraqis up in charge of certain ministries that are not political --

Post: Health.

Feith: Yeah, health or something. That may happen a whole lot faster than you could turn over the army and have it reformed, or the intelligence service or something. Some things are harder to do than others. But our goal is to get the Iraqis running their own affairs as early as possible. We are not looking to occupy the country.

Post: [inaudible] hearing last week said it may be a couple of years before the Iraqis --

Feith: This couple of years thing has been terribly misunderstood. Did you see the hearing itself?

Post: I did, and what I understood him to be saying was imagine that at the end of perhaps two years the Iraqis would be in complete control of their government.

Feith: No. I really think -- I watched the tape again specifically on that point because the headlines in a number of press stories and all that was the U.S. envisions a two year occupation of Iraq.

Post: I didn't get it that way at all.

Feith: What happened was, let me just remind you --

Post: I don't want to use my last few minutes. . .

Feith: Okay. But the thing you've got to know is we are not predicting a timeframe -- It's unknown.

Post: What you described sounds like an American operation.

Feith: Well, Coalition. No the US would be leading a coalition.

Post: These pillars, the civil administration.

Feith: No, we're going to be bringing.

Post: That's my question.

Feith: This is, I'm jumping the gun a little bit here.

Post: You haven't actually jumped as yet.

Feith: No, but I don't mind, I guess it's benign. We hope and expect that there will be substantial participation from coalition partners in the work, in the stability operations and in the humanitarian and reconstruction work in Iraq in the event of a war. And we are in the process of reaching out to many countries to get specific on the kind of contributions they want to make and roles they want to play in post-war Iraq. And the same applies to international organizations and NGOs.

We have already made connections with many international organizations and NGOs. We've made connections with a number of countries. This is a process where you've got to get more and more specific down to the point where it's absolutely clear who's going to take responsibility for what and who's going to be in the planning, and who's going to deploy, and who's going to commit to what extent, and that's a rolling diplomatic process and it's underway.

Post: Do you see an international figure playing a top or very senior role in leading reconstruction efforts?

Feith: They may. We are in the process right now of talking with countries. We're going to be doing it more and more. And this whole issue of how you put a coalition together is a very interesting and complex issue. We are in the process of putting, and some of this goes back weeks and in some cases months, but the work is intensifying. And we are in the process of lining up people who want to play various types of roles and make various types of contributions and depending on what sectors and what people are willing to commit to and whether they have the resources and how it all develops, we're going to have, as I said, hope and expect, substantial contributions from NGOs, international organizations, and coalition partners in this post-war work.

Post: Okay.

Feith: By the way, including the liaisons with this office.

Post: Sure. They're going to play key roles, I understand. Karen [inaudible]actually yesterday asked me to ask a question. She said she had heard something about three different commissions.

Feith: That's what we have been talking about with the various Iraqi opposition groups. There was talk about a constitutional commission, a judicial commission, and then some kind of commission that will function as consulting and working on basically the government.

Post: Some kind of body?

Feith: Some kind of body.

Post: Assembly.

Feith: We don't have the precise term and we don't have the precise outline of it but there's some idea along those lines that will be -- Those are the three things that she probably heard about.

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