Few Willing to Suggest Rumsfeld Successor

The Associated Press
Saturday, April 29, 2006; 3:31 AM

WASHINGTON -- In all the recent talk about whether Donald H. Rumsfeld should quit running the Pentagon, little has been said about successors who might be better able to complete the U.S. military mission in Iraq.

When lawmakers and others are pressed, the names that come up most often include several current and former members of the Senate. Some say a member of Congress taking the defense secretary's job would improve an oft-cited Rumsfeld shortcoming _ impatience with the legislative branch and a reluctance to consult fully with its members.

A current or former lawmaker might also do a better job of communicating with the public _ a key factor in an election year in which party control of Congress will be up for grabs.

Even a supporter, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, calls Rumsfeld "not overly communicative."

Names sometimes mentioned include Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., a former Navy secretary; Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn.; and former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga.

With President Bush's strongly worded public support, it appears Rumsfeld will remain at the Pentagon, where after more than five years in the job he is one of the longest-serving defense secretaries in history.

When his critics attack Rumsfeld, they generally focus on blame for what has gone wrong in Iraq. A resilient insurgency has taken nearly 2,400 American lives since the 2003 invasion, far more than expected, and Iraqis have struggled mightily to create a stable government and provide their own security.

But the critics have said little about who might do better at this stage, which the Bush administration has labeled a year of transition from U.S. to Iraqi control, with the hope of beginning to withdraw some American forces.

"America deserves a secretary of defense who has the vision to implement a policy in Iraq that is worthy of the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., one of Rumsfeld's harshest critics.

Jon Soltz, a veteran of the Iraq war and director of a political action committee for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said his group is neutral on the question of whether Rumsfeld should go or stay.

"What's more important than identifying a possible successor is that those of us who have been on the ground in Iraq, have served in the war on terror in Afghanistan, know that there needs to be a fresh start," Soltz said.

He rejected the administration's emphasis on "staying the course" in Iraq and said fresh ideas are urgently needed.

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