This week, retired US Gen. Jay Garner becomes one of the most important heads of state in the world and, he hopes, the one with the shortest term in power.
His daunting task: to rebuild Iraq, help launch a stable government there, and then write himself out of the scene as soon as possible.
As administrator of a conquered nation, he is not angling to be the next American Caesar, a term once used to describe Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who directed the 6-1/2 year Allied occupation of Japan after World War II.
Nor is he using his new status to promote his own cult of personality, another charge leveled at MacArthur. Former colleagues say that General Garner brings a quality to the job that his outsized predecessor did not: humility.
He will need it.
Garner confronts rival factions in Iraq and critics at home. But, like the precision-guided missiles he has spent much of his career promoting, he is prone to keeping his objectives on target. The retired three-star general said recently he expected his job to last three or four months.
Experts say that could be a stretch. Unlike MacArthur, he does not start this assignment a well-defined plan on how to do it or even what is to be done.
The official US objectives in postwar Iraq range from providing food and reopening schools to purging Baath Party members from public life, and laying foundations for a democratic Iraq.
Moreover, to achieve them requires working with groups who profoundly disagree on how to rebuild on the ruins of the Saddam Hussein regime - Iraqi opposition groups, international relief organizations, and even rivals within the Bush administration.
Even before his first day in Iraq as head of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), critics were saying the job was too big or that Garner wasn't right for it. Some Arab commentators worried that his ties with Israel signaled a conspiracy to rebuild Iraq in Israel's interest; others, that his ties with US defense contractors only confirmed that the war had been about oil and US business interests.
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