Jay Garner's Missing Link

Much is made of retired Army Lieutenant General Jay Garner's suitability for the job as U.S. viceroy of Iraq. Garner's linkages to pro-Likud party think-tanks and military contractors are sure to raise the eyebrows of news junkies and the ire of the Arab world, if he lasts long enough in the role.

But a key Garner selling point has been his past success in northern Iraq in 1991, helping the Kurds. Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times wrote recently that "General Garner proved himself a logistical miracle worker when he was dispatched to help the Kurds in northern Iraq in 1991. He can provide security and get the water flowing more quickly than the United Nations could, and that trumps all else for the short term."

The phrase "miracle worker" might apply. Just not to General Garner.

The key to Garner's success in 1991 in northern Iraq was a very special guy in humanitarian relief and disaster response circles. He was a self-made Texan businessman who had some good old-fashioned free market and anti-bureaucratic ideas about how to help people help themselves. His name was Fred Cuny.

Fred Cuny was infamous in global relief and aid circles for several reasons. He sometimes accused the big aid organizations of having their own non-humanitarian agendas, working for the cameras and not the people in need, and misunderstanding and devaluing the role of human commerce and trade in recovery from crisis. Cuny noted "… in many situations understanding and manipulating market forces can be far more important and effective than classic relief operations."

Back in 1991, the State Department, in its traditional role of conducting security and foreign assistance, asked Fred and his company, Intertect, to come and help the Kurdish relief operation.

There he worked with Jay Garner. To his credit, Garner seems to have let Fred manage the operation Fred's way, providing the military security and resources left over from southern Iraq, that in turn fueled Fred's pro-market and get-back-on-your-feet approach to humanitarian operations.

You can learn more about Fred Cuny at the PBS Frontline site or read the book The Man Who Tried to Save the World. His Intertect Institute, founded in 1987, has transformed into The Cuny Center, and continues his legacy.

Fred Cuny was killed in Chechnya in 1995. He disappeared in April, eight years ago.

From the image of Fred Cuny, try to swing your mind around to our strutting emperor-in-training at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, to his proud martinets across the river, to the less public network of U.S. and Israeli political contributors and think-tanks, to the team of viceroys and governors and American administrators selected in Washington to lead Iraq. Something substantial is missing in this crowd, their competence oh-so-brightly portrayed but frighteningly superficial. There is something hollow about what they bring to the table.

They say Fred Cuny sounded like he was boasting when he talked about what he could do, what he had done. But the strange thing was, even his critics admitted he wasn't lying. He wasn't even exaggerating.

Fred Cuny was the shine on Garner's stars back in 1991 in northern Iraq.

Cuny's radical expectations, his single-minded commitment to the mission, and his respect for the marketplace were a key part of Jay Garner's success in northern Iraq. In turn, Jay Garner's success in northern Iraq is a key part of why Garner is set to be our next Mesopotamian Viceroy.

Only this time, he doesn't have Fred Cuny.

We can find plenty of passion, single-mindedness, and intolerance among the braying neo-conservatives, whether among the chatty Hannity, Rush and Boortz crowd, or the more furtive smoking club of Wolfowitz, Cheney, and Perle.

Fred's passion was to eliminate human suffering, his focus was on individual empowerment, he wasn't concerned with lining his own pockets, and he had no tolerance for either groupthink or false sincerity. These are commodities that you or I or Jay Garner won't find easily in Washington today.

But in honor of Fred Cuny's life and spirit, we ought to seek them anyway and accept no substitutes. Especially in April.

April 14, 2003