Tuesday, May 08, 2007

National Security Exodus From The Bush Administration

Top members of President George W. Bush's national security team are leaving in one of the earliest waves of departures from a second-term U.S. administration — nearly two years before Bush's time ends.

As rancor in the United States rises over handling of the war in Iraq, at least 20 senior aides have either retired or resigned from important posts at the White House, Defense Department and State Department in the past six months.

Some have left for lucrative positions in the private sector. Some have gone to academic or charitable institutions. The latest was Deputy National Security Adviser J.D. Crouch, who spoke favorably of Bush's policies as he announced he was leaving last week.

Turnover is normal as an administration nears its end, but "this is a high number," said Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University and an expert on government.

"You would expect to see vacancies arise as things wind down, but it's about six months early for this kind of a mass exodus," he said. ...

Some officials, however, speaking only privately, say some people may be leaving to avoid being associated with the increasingly unpopular Iraq conflict.

About six in 10 Americans say the United States made a mistake in going to war in Iraq and almost as many say they think it is a hopeless cause, according to recent AP-Ipsos polling. Less than a third support Bush's handling of the war.

At the White House, four top officials have stepped down, including Crouch; Meghan O'Sullivan, another deputy national security adviser who worked on Iraq; Tom Graham, the senior director for Russia, and Victor Cha, the point man for the Koreas.

O'Sullivan's departure has set off a search for a "war czar" to oversee operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, a job reportedly turned down by a number of senior or retired generals.

Graham's resignation comes as tensions with Russia rise over U.S. missile defense plans in Europe, and Cha leaves amid concerns over North Korea's failure to comply with deadlines to eliminate its nuclear weapons programs.

Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld resigned under fire in November and is not included in the list of 20.

His close associate and chief of intelligence Stephan Cambone followed him out the door as did Peter Rodman, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. Army Secretary Francis Harvey was fired over shoddy conditions at Walter Reed hospital.

Another Pentagon official, Richard Lawless, the senior policy coordinator for Asia, is expected to leave this summer.

The State Department has been hit hardest with at least five so-called "principals" — people in the top four tiers of the bureaucracy — stepping down.

Light said the diplomatic departures appeared to demonstrate a feeling that the administration is running out of time for foreign policy accomplishments despite Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's perseverance.

"They reflect a decline in the Bush foreign policy agenda," he said. "No matter how hard Condi Rice works, this administration's foreign policy has pretty much run its course."

Deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the departures were not unusual and would not affect the agency's handling of relations with foreign governments.


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