WASHINGTON – President Bush’s overhaul of his top Iraq strategists reflects deep unhappiness with his national security team – particularly Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld but also Secretary of State Powell, Bush sources told the New York Daily News Thursday.

Bush’s displeasure means that neither Powell nor Rumsfeld will keep his job in a second Bush term, the sources said. Powell already has signaled his intent to leave after the 2004 election but Rumsfeld had indicated he wanted to stay on.

“All this does is validate (Bush’s belief that) it’s time for new blood in a new administration if we’re reelected,” one official said. “There will be a changeover at Defense and a changeover at State.”

Despite official White House denials, Bush’s creation of an interagency Iraq Stabilization Group headed by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice is designed in part to halt the intramural turf battles between the Pentagon and State – infighting Bush believes has contributed to flagging public support for the war and its aftermath.

Much of Bush’s disappointment is directed at Rumsfeld, who is widely seen within the administration to have been more adept at waging war than peace in Iraq.

“The president feels let down,” one well-placed source told the Daily News. “He feels as if Rumsfeld was unwilling to come and get help (for the postwar effort) and thinks his inability to trust anyone other than his immediate subordinates created a serious, ongoing problem in both Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Moreover, the source added, “After the war, Rumsfeld wanted to get back to (Pentagon) modernization and transformation and took his eye off the ball.”

But the secretary of state comes in for his share of criticism as well.

“Powell has basically absented himself from this situation because he wanted Rumsfeld to fail – and believe me, the president’s unhappy about that, too.”

The White House did not respond to calls seeking comment. Earlier this week, press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters that Bush has full confidence in Rumsfeld and other members of his foreign policy team.

Though Bush is aware that some of his senior advisers believe Rice has failed to control the warfare between Rumsfeld and Powell, there’s no evidence Bush is upset with her. Rice has the closest personal relationship of any staffer with Bush – who has told friends for more than a year that he intends to appoint her the next secretary of state.

“She emerges as the winner,” one top Bush adviser said Thursday.

Vice President Cheney, who, with his onetime mentor Rumsfeld, is a primary architect of the Iraq policy, has defended Rumsfeld’s stewardship internally, arguing that Iraq has proved a more intractable problem than anyone could have imagined. Bush, however, has a less sympathetic view.

Asked if Bush’s unhappiness might conceivably extend to Cheney, one source replied, “That’s a complicated question, but if there is (unhappiness), the only two people who would ever know that would be the two of them.”



(c) 2003, New York Daily News.

Visit the Daily News online at http://www.nydailynews.com/

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-10-09-03 2242EDT



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