Thu, Nov 11, 2004 - Page 9 News List

The Great Mentioner on likely nods for Dubya's second term

By William Safire  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , WASHINGTON

The terrorists' Ramadan offensive escalated last weekend, inviting martial law in Iraq and our (the US') counterattack to oust the occupiers of Fallujah. A pitched battle where firepower is decisive is a loser for guerrilla fighters. Iraq will then proceed to elections, the UN's unhelpful Secretary-General Kofi Annan notwithstanding.

Thus the public side of the Bush administration's internal transition -- that unnamed 80 days of relief, regeneration and reaching-out between re-election and second inauguration -- will be overshadowed during what we hope will be climactic fighting.

As soon as it ends, expect intense inside jockeying and outside speculation as the president begins to reshuffle his deck and recast some of his characters to keep campaign promises. Unlike Nixon after his landslide re-election, Bush will make no demand for mass resignations (luckily, I got mine in and made it out the door just before Watergate broke). Nor is a sudden exodus in store.

But that will not silence the Great Mentioner. You know how some people go through life basking in the glory of having been "mentioned for" some high post? My old colleague in Times columny, Russ Baker, conjured the oracle: The Great Mentioner. Today that crystal ball is in my court.

The first slot eagerly anticipated to be open by the glum 48 percent of voters is secretary of defense. They will be disappointed anew. Donald Rumsfeld should remain as secretary of defense at least until the backbone of the insurgency is broken, and until his reshaping of our military has taken hold under Marine General Peter Pace, to become Joint Chiefs chairman next fall. Rumsfeld's deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, is likely to become SecDef unless he is moved into the national security adviser's job.

Which is currently held by Condi Rice, a frequent mentionee for the top slot at State now filled by Colin Powell. But Colin, who knows how dreary a book tour can be, may not be as ready to bail out as most Atlanticist pragmaticists like to think.

With Middle East progress possible with the replacement of Yasser Arafat, and with the leaders of the permanent members of the Security Council eager to establish rapport with the re-empowered US president, the job of secretary of state may be far less frustrating. On a competitive level: If you were Powell, would you want to surrender the Bush foreign-policy field to your bureaucratic rival, Rumsfeld?

In the terror war, a new job will be created atop the intelligence world during the lame-duck session: Czar of All Spooks, though stripped of the too-powerful budgetary control the 9/11 commission wanted. Porter Goss, the new CIA chief, has not run an organization larger than a Congressional committee staff, and as management gurus say, "people who have run something are better running things than people who have not." National intelligence director? Here's mentioning the shockingly awesome retired general Tommy Franks.

With moralism redeemed, John Ashcroft can confidently return home. Representative Chris Cox of California, a savvy former White House counsel, is mentionable for attorney general, and that state could use another high-profile Republican. Another prospect is Ted Olson, former solicitor general, unless he is to be Bush's first nominee to the Supreme Court. Then there are the two Larrys: Larry Thompson, Ashcroft's former deputy, and Laurence Silberman, senior Court of Appeals judge now co-chairing an intelligence commission (unless he gets the czarship I've given General Franks).

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