'Diplomatic' Disputes Mar Iraq Reconstruction Administration

Bias, favoritism, critical fault lines between the State and Defense Departments -- all have contributed to strong criticism over the choice of appointees to reconstruct Iraq, and whether they will be able to make a difference on the ground.

Gen. Jay Garner, head of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance has been accused of having a pro-Israel bias, something critics say will hinder his ability to rebuild the war-torn Arab nation of Iraq. Garner's supporters say the accusations are unfair and won't stick.

Whether or not there is real bias doesn’t matter, said Cato Institute analyst Patrick Basham. Just the perception of bias may be enough to sabotage American efforts to win “the hearts and minds” of Iraqis.

“We know that they are incredibly sensitive. Motives will be questioned,” Basham said. “You‘re just asking for trouble.”

Aside from complaints about specific appointees, some conservatives in Washington are criticizing the way the appointment process is being handled.

“Any operation like this is enormously challenging. If we had the best organized, the best politically-directed group of transition persons, it would still be difficult,” said Danielle Pletka, senior fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, who adds the State Department has made the team too top heavy with career diplomats.

“No one was making the ultimate decisions” for who joined the team, Pletka said. Now, the list represents a “pie” full of agency favorites and accentuates the divisions between the agencies.

“This is a chronic problem.  Taking the divisions in Washington and transplanting them in Iraq is not a recipe for success,” Pletka said.

A State Department official, who did not want to be named, said he is aware of the controversy, but insists it is coming from a “minority chorus.”

"Most people want to see the process work,” and have no problem with the team that has been assembled.

“From the starting gate, you have people whose philosophical objectives are different. Just like any two agencies, we’re going to have different approaches. But we all want to get to the same place -- there’s just a question how that is going to get done. That’s not necessarily a bad thing," the official said.