BARBARA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT

I first heard the name Barbara Bodine while watching the Frontline documentary, The Man Who Knew Too Much.

At the time I had no interest in her, and most of my interest in the story of maverick FBI agent John O’Neill hinged on the Ramzi Yousef angle. (The real identity of Ramzi Yousef and whether he was part of al Qaida continues to fascinate and intrigue me.) But now that her name is in the air again, I refreshed my memory.

I didn’t get a very good impression of her from the Frontline documentary. She struck me as behaving more like an employee of the Government of Yemen, than a member of the US diplomatic corps:

FRONTLINE recounts a heated political battle over the investigation of the bombing of the USS Cole. Former government officials recount how O’Neill’s desire to show the Yemeni security forces–which he viewed as being less than cooperative–that the FBI meant business angered U.S. Ambassador Barbara Bodine–so much so, that when O’Neill made a brief trip home to New York for Thanksgiving, Bodine denied his visa, preventing him from returning to the investigation.

“John was upset,” says Barry Mawn, O’Neill’s supervisor at the FBI’s New York office. “[Bodine] was badmouthing him; she caused a stir at headquarters. I actually think John was more disappointed that our headquarters didn’t back us as far as sending him back.”

The maker of the documentary discusses Bodine’s “contributions” here.

Anyone who rises as far as Bodine did in the diplomatic corps has to be an nasty infighter , slippery eel and a good liar. O’Neill didn’t stand a chance against this accomplished practitioner of diplomatic chicanery.

The decision to put Bodine in charge of the Baghdad sector – if true — strikes me as an almost laughable misunderstanding of Iraqi society. It would have to have been hatched in the deepest bowels of the Near East desk of the State Department, where attitudes towards Arabs range from mildly besotted to purple passion. They probably think that the Baghdad area is sophisticated and cosmopolitan, and that the residents would be grateful to have an old hand in the region with a pronounced affection for Arabs. They couldn’t be more wrong, but what else is new for our State Department?

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