washington – US Secretary of State Colin Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage, have signaled to the White House that they intend to step down even if President George W Bush is re-elected, setting the stage for a substantial reshaping of the administration’s national security team that has remained unchanged through the September 2001 terrorist attacks, two wars and numerous other crises.
Armitage recently told national security adviser Condoleezza Rice that he and Powell will leave Jan 21, 2005, the day after the next presidential inauguration, sources familiar with the conversation said. Powell has indicated to associates that a commitment made to his wife, rather than any dismay at the administration’s foreign policy, is a key factor in his desire to limit his tenure to one presidential term.
Rice and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz are the top candidates to replace Powell, sources inside and outside the administration say. Rice appears to have an edge because of her closeness to the president, though it is unclear whether she would be interested in running the State Department’s vast bureaucracy.
With 18 months left in Bush’s current term, many ofﬁcials said talk of a new foreign policy team is highly premature—particularly because Bush’s re-election is not assured. No one inside or outside the administration agreed to be quoted by name or afﬁliation in discussing possible Cabinet choices. But on the eve of the country’s ﬁrst post-Sept 11, 2001, presidential campaign, in which foreign affairs will play a prominent role, the national security lineup for a second Bush term is already a major topic of conversation, at least among those who make and analyze US foreign policy.
Indeed, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet is already the third-longest serving CIA chief and is expected to depart, perhaps before the current term ends. Tenet’s role in the Iraq weapons controversy has led to calls in US Congress for his dismissal, fueling speculation he will quit soon.
The current administration has been characterized by ﬁerce policy disputes, often between Powell and more hawkish members, and a reshufﬂing likely would signiﬁcantly change the tenor and character of the foreign policy team.
Although Bush appears to value the range of opinions he has received from his chief national security advisers, he may feel free if he wins a second term to realign his foreign policy more closely to the harder-edged, conservative view exempliﬁed by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, according to Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser under former president Jimmy Carter.
Powell has staffed key positions in the State Department with close associates, and many of those ofﬁcials also are expected to leave at the beginning of a second Bush term, giving the new secretary of state the opportunity to substantially re-staff the department.
Some observers have speculated that Powell, who made an extensive presentation before the UN in February on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction before the war, has been embarrassed by the failure to ﬁnd much evidence of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons programs. But Powell, both publicly and privately, has said he has no regrets about his comments to the Security Council, arguing that they hold up well if read carefully.
Powell has declined to answer questions about his plans. “I serve at the pleasure of the president,” he said last month. “That’s the only answer I’ve ever given to that question, no matter what form it comes in.”
Bush recently named Rice as his personal representative on the Middle East conﬂict, a move that some State Department ofﬁcials view as an audition for secretary of state. Republican political operatives have also touted Rice as a possible candidate in the 2006 race for governor of California state.
But Rice’s image has been tarnished by the fallout over the administration’s use of intelligence about Iraq’s weapons, raising questions about her scrutiny of the materials and the veracity of her public statements.
Rice “is an honest, fabulous person, and America is lucky to have her service, period,” Bush said at a news conference before departing for his August vacation.
Wolfowitz, the administration’s foreign policy intellectual and prime advocate of a confrontation with Iraq, would be a more daring and controversial choice. A senior Senate Democrat said Wolfowitz would have little trouble winning conﬁrmation in a Republican Party-controlled Senate. But others said that because Wolfowitz is considered more of a strategic thinker than a manager, he could be tapped as Rice’s replacement as national security adviser if she became secretary of state or entered politics.
Long-shot candidates for secretary would include Senator Richard Lugar, the centrist chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee who is a strong supporter of Powell. Lugar is so respected by Democrats that his name was also ﬂoated during the previous administration.
Another dark horse is former House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich. The Republican appears to be openly campaigning for the job, arguing in speeches and in a recent Foreign Policy magazine article that the State Department under Powell has failed to adequately support Bush’s policies.
Among other key members of the foreign policy team, Rumsfeld is deeply involved in modernizing the military, as well as in the Defense Department’s ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and appears willing to stay on beyond the start of a second term, ofﬁcials said.
If Rice became secretary of state, that would open up another key slot—national security adviser. Although Wolfowitz is considered a strong possibility, Rice’s deputy, Stephen Hadley, could move up, much as Samuel “Sandy” Berger did when former president Bill Clinton won a second term.
Ofﬁcials also said one strong candidate is I Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff and already a principal foreign policy adviser inside the White House.
A dark-horse candidate for national security adviser is Steve Biegun, chief foreign affairs aide to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who is said to have impressed Bush when he served as executive secretary of the National Security Council early on in the administration.
There appear to be few obvious choices for a new CIA director. Armitage, known as a sharp manager willing to tackle tough projects, is viewed by some ofﬁcials as the ideal replacement for Tenet. But Armitage has insisted to others that he will leave the administration on the same day as Powell, a close friend.
Representative Porter Goss, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and a former CIA case ofﬁcer, is considered a strong possibility, as is Wolfowitz if he is not tapped for secretary of state or national security adviser.
Air Force Lieutenant General Michael Hayden, head of the National Security Agency, and retired Admiral William Studeman, a former NSA director and former CIA deputy director, are regarded as highly qualiﬁed.
Two mid-level administration ofﬁcials who could move up are Stephen Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and Richard Haver, assistant to Rumsfeld on intelligence (and to the vice president when he was defense secretary in the administration of former president George Bush).
Two retired senators who served on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence—Warren Rudman and Fred Thompson—are considered long-shot candidates for CIA director.
But Thompson, a sometime actor who now appears in the television series “Law and Order,” has one unusual attribute: He already played the CIA director in the 1987 Kevin Costner movie “No Way Out.”
Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, head of the National Security Agency, and retired Adm. William O. Studeman, a former NSA director and former CIA deputy director, are regarded as highly qualiﬁed for the job.