RICE POWELL RUMSFELD
Lawrence Jackson  /  AP file
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, left, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld during a June briefing at the White House.
By Brave New World columnist
msnbc.com
updated 9/3/2004 1:36:32 PM ET 2004-09-03T17:36:32

Walking the streets of this city this week, what strikes a journalist as strange is not so much who is here, but rather who is not.

One large group gone missing might be referred to as genus Manhattanis. New York’s central borough seems emptied of New Yorkers, along with its sub-group, genus Suburbius commutis. The former decamp at this time of year anyway for exotic locales like Quahog and Remsenburg out on Long Island, while the latter crowds the "Irish Riviera" along the Jersey Shore. Still, the streets of midtown are eerily reminiscent of that 1950s classic "The Day the Earth Stood Still." You could actually hear the wind-blown rubbish rustle by.

But the most conspicuously absent group is not native to these parts. It might be called "genus Securitatis," and it counts among its members such luminaries as Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, none of whom graced the convention podium.

Is this a harbinger of things to come?

Dubya II
None of the principal players in the administration’s national security team has made any formal announcement about his or her intentions post-election. But a wide array of present and former officials interviewed agreed that the president would likely use an election victory to remake his national security team more in his own image, jettisoning those deemed insufficiently loyal or overly devoted to their own ideological agendas.

Insiders suggest that several moves are afoot, including a further distancing of the administration from the "neo-conservative" theories that proved somewhat overly optimistic in their assessment of the Middle East’s preparation for democracy.

"I think the neo-conservative moment has passed," says Angelo Codevilla, a conservative foreign policy analyst who helped choose Ronald Reagan’s first Cabinet. "The ideology has worn out its welcome because it has proven impossible to implement. Its foot soldiers will pay the price."

Dan Goure, a well-connected former Reagan administration defense official now with the Lexington Institute, sees a desire to choose people who are going to be unswervingly loyal.

"I think this crew are looking for guys who will hew to a given line, and hence are looking for replacements who don’t carry a lot of baggage," he says.

Goure says the nomination of Rep. Porter Goss to replace George Tenet at CIA is a great example. "Winning another election is liberating in a way, but they never handled foreign policy for the sake of domestic constituencies. Mostly, the difference will be this crew now knows exactly what it wants."

The players
So how might that shake out? Here, based on interviews with more than a dozen insiders, is where things stand:

State Department: The most widely anticipated departure is that of Colin Powell, who spent the past several days visiting Panama rather than New York. From the start in 2001, Powell has been the man dispatched to soften the harsher blows of Bush foreign policy, whether they involved the withdrawal from international treaties, pending invasions or the controversial handling of captured enemies.

"I think you can assume that Powell’s non-attendance at a convention straining to reach out to voters not traditionally Republican speaks for itself," says a senior government official. "I would be very surprised to see him back, and I do not believe (Deputy Secretary of State Richard) Armitage will return, either."

An opening at State would please many conservatives, who tend to view Powell as an obstacle to aggressive pursuit of U.S. goals. Their preferred replacement is the undersecretary of state for East Asia, John Bolton, a hawk whose aggressive statements on North Korea and Cuba please the Right, but who does not have the ideological baggage of being a "neo-conservative."

Others, however, believe that a more complicated shift may be in the offing.

"Condi Rice has taken a lot of bullets for the administration’s 9/11 performance — some of them well-deserved — but she never has pointed her finger up the chain," says a senior administration official. "I would not be surprised to see her at State."

Another figure mentioned should Powell leave is John Negroponte, the former U.N. ambassador, though his recent appointment as ambassador to Baghdad makes such a move difficult. Another is former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn, widely respected by both parties and "useful if Bush wants to make a gesture to the other side, especially if the Senate winds up Democratic," says Goure.

Defense Department: Reports of Rumsfeld’s demise were severely premature when they first surfaced last spring along with the shocking Abu Ghraib torture scandal. (I hasten to point out here that I was not one of those spreading them – BNW, May 6, 2004 ) Many Democrats are still calling for his head.

But Rumsfeld’s critics are not confined to the Left. Within the administration, he won Pyrrhic turf battles with State (over control of post-war Iraq) and CIA (over control of DOD’s intel budget), only to lose both in humiliating reversals. Ultimately, State’s man, Paul Bremer, took over in Iraq as an insurgency the Pentagon failed to foresee gelled, and the 9/11 commission report recommended sweeping changes (and budgetary centralization) in the Balkanized U.S. intelligence system.

Add Abu Ghraib, and what 74-year-old would not yearn for some shade?

But more than any other official, save perhaps President Bush himself, the Iraq war will define Rumsfeld’s legacy. Many believe he would like to step down, but is loath to do so with the war hanging in the balance.

"I think this has become a thankless job for Rumsfeld, and he is a man enamored of flattery," says Codevilla. "More likely, he’ll seek an exit with some stability, unless he is not invited back."

A defense official who meets regularly with Rumsfeld described him as "tired but determined to see it through."

If Rumsfeld were to leave, however, several candidates may emerge for his post. Sen. John Warner, R-Va., and the longtime head of the Armed Services Committee, is one; another is John Lehman, the former Reagan administration Navy secretary and recent 9/11 panel commissioner.

A more controversial choice would be Rumsfeld's deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, whom no one begrudges intellectually, but who "may be damaged goods at this point," says Goure, "because of the sense that he was the driving force behind the Iraq war." Still, Wolfowitz is a dark horse, especially if the GOP retains control of the two houses of Congress.

Homeland Security, NSC and intelligence
Tom Ridge, currently Homeland Security secretary, is said to be almost certainly leaving in January regardless of the election’s outcome.

"I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s written the statement already," says a former member of Ridge’s Pennsylvania gubernatorial cabinet. "I think he feels very much in the middle without the power to make things happen."

Among those seen as likely replacements: former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a favorite of moderates, and Navy Secretary Gordon England.

Assuming Rice leaves her National Security Council post to move to State, the unanimous consensus among those interviewed was that her chief aide, Stephen Hadley, would take her place. A dark horse, according to a Republican source, is Danielle Pletka, a conservative Middle East analyst at the American Enterprise Institute with strong ties to Congress.

By far the most uncertain situation is intelligence, where not only the leadership but also the structure is undergoing change. Goss, the CIA nominee, could well find himself in a job commanding 15 large intelligence agencies, or one that simply manages CIA’s analytical talent and subordinate to a new national intelligence director.

Lehman, the Reagan-era Navy chief, and 9/11 commission chairman Tom Kean are both mentioned as possible candidates — if that post is ever created. California Rep. Chris Cox, whose efforts investigating Chinese nuclear missile espionage in the 1990s made his reputation, is a favorite of the Right.

"I’m not optimistic about those whose main interest is tinkering with the organizational charts," says Codevilla, who has written extensively on American intelligence agencies.

"What we seem to be facing across the board in a second Bush term is not action, but rather ‘stand-patism,’” Codevilla says. "I think a second term would be devoted to extricating ourselves from the messes we got into in the first one — especially Iraq."

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