Who would replace Rumsfeld?

If there is one thing that everyone from MoveOn to the neocons can agree on, it’s that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld needs to go. In this week’s Time, yet another retired general joins the chorus. But who would or could replace Rumsfeld? I decided to ask around among some “Washington insiders” in the know ...

608924_Armitage.thumbnail5.jpeg
608924_Armitage.thumbnail5.jpeg

If there is one thing that everyone from MoveOn to the neocons can agree on, it's that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld needs to go. In this week’s Time, yet another retired general joins the chorus.

But who would or could replace Rumsfeld? I decided to ask around among some "Washington insiders" in the know (none currently in government). As with most Washington gossip, it was off the record.

Here are the people who came up in the name game:

If there is one thing that everyone from MoveOn to the neocons can agree on, it’s that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld needs to go. In this week’s Time, yet another retired general joins the chorus.

But who would or could replace Rumsfeld? I decided to ask around among some “Washington insiders” in the know (none currently in government). As with most Washington gossip, it was off the record.

Here are the people who came up in the name game:

Richard Armitage, Bush’s former deputy secretary of state, was tipped for the job by the über-insider Nelson Report last week. (Hat Tip: Steve Clemons)

Why: The kind of guy who could get a grip on this behemoth of a department. Strong reputation on the Hill would make his confirmation relatively easy. As a storied Vietnam vet, he would ease tensions with the uniformed military. Would demonstrate that Bush is prepared to admit errors on issues like treatment of detainees. Why not: Has clashed with Condi too often and regarded by many Bushies as disloyal, the unforgivable sin in their eyes. Plus, does an administration already in deep doo-doo over the Plame affair want to add Armitage to the mix?

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) has been tipped for the job more times than I have had hot dinners.

Why: Brownie points for bipartisanship. Chattering classes will commend Bush for “reaching out” and some moderates would be reassured that Bush is putting victory before politics. The Senate would go easy on one of their own. Why not: No war-fighting or managerial experience. There’s also the question of whether he’d say yes and leave the cause of Democratic hawkishness much reduced. Also, can the administration afford to loose one of its few remaining Democratic Senate allies on Iraq?

Gordon England is the current deputy secretary of defense.

Why: The continuity candidate. He could hit the ground running. Why Not: The continuity candidate. Wins nobody Bush doesn’t already have. England is unlikely to inspire public support or give people confidence that Bush is adjusting his tactics. 

Sen. John Warner (R-VA) is term limited out of the chairmanship of the Senate Armed Services committee at the end of the year.

Why: As both a Congressional and combat veteran, could help restore frayed relations with Congress and the military. As a former Navy Secretary would reassure a service branch that feels underappreciated. Also, the kind of gray-beard Washington loves. Why not: Senators aren’t good mangers and would it be the capstone to his career or a millstone?

Sean O’Keefe former NASA administrator, now president of LSU.

Why: Plenty of DOD experience. Rated highly by those close to Bush (whom he controversially campaigned for in 2004) and Cheney, whom he served under as Navy Secretary. Why not: Does the Pentagon need another boss who is in love with management speak? Also, would invite cracks that victory in Iraq is as likely as his putative manned mission to Mars.

Stephen Hadley is the current national security advisor.

Why: Has DOD experience and he’s up to speed on Iraq. With him at the Pentagon and Condi (his old — and some would say current — boss) at State, the two departments might finally get onto the same page. Why not: Would give Condi a grip on the policy-making process that would make even a first-term Cheney jealous. Known to be indecisive, a big handicap at a department where you have to make a hundred decisions before breakfast. He’s under the Palme inquiry microscope and his confirmation hearing would bring up the 16 words all over again. 

John F. Lehman, former Navy Secretary and 9/11 Commission member, is the dark horse candidate.

Why: Would offer a strong bureaucratic hand on the tiller. Has DOD experience and his 9/11 Commission experience means he’s up to speed on the anti-terror side. Why not: Has he kept on top of military affairs since he left the department in 1987? This is no time for someone needing an on-the-job refresher course.

—– 

For all the replacements suggested, there was a consistent theme: Rumsfeld isn’t leaving anytime soon. Some argue that the Ford administration alumni, now the Eastern Shore vacation posse, remain too strong for Rummy to be shown the door. Others say the problem is that it’s almost impossible to think of someone who’ll take on a job that has become a political poisoned chalice. 

But when Sen. John McCain, or a Democrat, takes up the gavel at Armed Services in January ‘07, there is near unanimous agreement that, Rumsfeld will be much more vulnerable, and may choose to resign at that time.

The 2008 race precludes serious consideration of McCain, who can’t run the Pentagon and a national campaign at the same time. Sen. Lindsey Graham is also out of consideration because the GOP needs him in the Senate and he would probably like a spot in a McCain administration (Attorney General, perhaps). Other qualified people with ambition simply don’t want to deal with Rummy’s mess, lest it drag down their careers. Maybe, that’s why Bush biographer Fred Barnes thinks Dick Cheney is the best man for the job. 

James Forsyth is assistant editor at Foreign Policy.

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