Reconstruction Officials Cut Wide Swath of Washington Elite

At first blush, the list of appointees to the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (search) looks like a standard mélange of military, diplomatic and political types who -- based on their individual qualifications -- have been selected to help rebuild war-torn Iraq.

But start asking about the list of appointees, and both conservatives and liberals raise red flags, and expose the long-standing bureaucratic volley between the State and Defense Departments.

“There are opposite agendas" in the appointment process, said Gary Schmitt, president for the Project for the New American Century, a neo-conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.

“When that happens, you will always have someone trashing you. I doubt people in the streets of Baghdad will think it's all terribly important,” he added.

Others say that the streets of Iraq are extremely sensitive right now, and sending people over who might be construed as having biases might not be the smartest move.

For instance, some observers have complained about the appointment of Lt. Gen. Jay Garner (search) to head ORHA. In 2000, the former commanding general of the U.S. Army Space and Strategic Defense Command traveled to Israel on the invitation of The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and signed a statement by the think tank blaming Palestinians for the violence against Israel. The seeming pro-Israeli bias has created some tension on the ground.

Garner’s supporters say critics are grasping at straws to attempt to undermine the reconstruction process.

"I haven't seen it have any legs," Schmitt said.

Garner’s office is reportedly moving under the auspices of a civilian administrator, L. Paul Bremer, (search) who will also act as the special envoy to Iraq. Bremer, a former State Department counter-terrorism expert, served six secretaries of state and serves on the president's homeland security advisory commission.

Bremer's appointment scores one for the State Department, which has been at odds with the Defense Department, over how to manage Iraq's reconstruction.

Others question the value of obvious political appointees, like Margaret Tutwiler (search), who advised the Bush-Cheney election team during the Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election, and served as the spokeswoman for the Pentagon in the first Gulf War.

And then there’s attorney Michael H. Mobbs (search), who’s been put in charge of civil administration in Iraq. He has a long history as a political appointee in Washington going back to the Reagan administration. He’s worked closely since with now Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Perle, a known war hawk who until recently had been a defense advisor to President Bush.

Civil libertarians are decrying Mobbs’ most recent appointment because of his role in arguing the administration’s case against U.S.-born terror suspects.

Using now what is being called the “Mobbs Declaration” -- a two-page argument written by Mobbs for the White House in 2002 -- the Bush administration convinced federal judges that it could detain terror suspects Jose Padilla (search) and Yaser Esam Hamdi as enemy combatants with no charges, lawyer or trial.

“His name right now is synonymous with the denial of due process for U.S. citizens,” charged Elisa Massimino, Washington director of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.  “The administration is essentially trying to export democracy to Iraq and I would say there should be some quality control over that exportation.”

Barbara Bodine (search), who has long served the State Department in Middle East affairs, and most recently as ambassador to Yemen, is the only Arabic speaker in the top tier of Garner’s team. She will serve as the regional coordinator for Baghdad and central Iraq.

As ambassador to Yemen when the U.S.S. Cole was bombed by terrorists in 2000, Bodine clashed with FBI investigator John O’Neill, calling him too aggressive for the local population. She sent him packing, raising charges that her conflict with him stymied the Cole investigation. O'Neill later died in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Cato Institute analyst Patrick Basham said he believes that the administration would have been smarter placing more emphasis on civil administration types, as well as law enforcement experts, on the ground, rather than concentrating so much on political, diplomatic and military personnel.

"What you want is people with experience at the local level," he said. "And you need a visible presence that is both credible and respected.

"But given the immediate public relations issues, if this is you’re A-team, I say go with the B-team."