Bush Aide to Leave No. 2 National Security Post

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 5, 2007

Deputy national security adviser J.D. Crouch II, who helped spearhead the recent policy review that led President Bush to send more U.S. troops to Iraq, announced yesterday that he will step down early next month, becoming the latest key aide to depart the White House at a critical juncture.

Crouch, the No. 2 official at the National Security Council, has been a pivotal figure on a series of difficult issues, including Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran and the detention policy for terrorism suspects. And it was his interagency group meeting at the White House complex for many weeks last winter that resulted in the ongoing troop buildup in Iraq, which has become the defining decision of the year for Bush.

In an interview, Crouch said he is leaving to devote more time to his family after six years in the administration. He expressed confidence that Bush's policy of trying to build democracy in Iraq and spread it around the world will ultimately pay off. "I worry about it," he said. "I think it's important to question your assumptions, always ask yourself if you're on the right track. But as I look at the agenda that the president has set out, I think it's the right agenda, and history will vindicate that."

Crouch becomes the second top official involved in crafting the new Iraq strategy to leave before it is clear if the new approach will work. Meghan O'Sullivan, the deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan, also plans to resign soon. The departures will leave national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley huge holes to fill even as he tries to find a new "war czar" to oversee Iraq.

"He has been a critical player in terms of developing and supporting the president's policies," Hadley said of Crouch. He credited Crouch with easing the internal tensions of the first term. "At the end of the day, people are comfortable with the decisions the president makes, and you didn't have reports of fighting . . . you had in the past."

Crouch is a conservative in a White House that has angered the right recently by reaching out to Iran and North Korea. As an academic in 1995, Crouch wanted to bomb North Korea if it did not give up nuclear weapons; now Bush has made a deal with Pyongyang that conservatives deem weak. "It's a sad day because he had a very clear-eyed view of Iran and North Korea," said John R. Bolton, Bush's former ambassador to the United Nations. "He understands the nature of the threat. . . . He was a very steady voice for sensible policy, and now there will be one less voice in the administration."

Some associates said Crouch has grown disenchanted with the shift in direction, even if he remains publicly circumspect. "Are there issues where he may not have agreed with the outcome?" asked a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "Sure there are. Is he frustrated about some of them? Yes. But he's been a good soldier."

Crouch denied that he was discouraged by the decisions Bush has made on Iran and North Korea. "I have total confidence in him and in his judgment on these things," he said. "The only bitterness . . . is that I can't stay here forever and work with this president."

Colleagues said Crouch served as an honest broker despite strong personal views. "While not disguising his views or pretending he didn't have any, he managed to be incredibly fair and objective and ran an even-handed process that gave everybody a chance to put their oar in the water," said Undersecretary of Defense Eric S. Edelman.

Staff writer Michael Abramowitz contributed to this report.

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