Thad Allen, a retired Coast Guard admiral widely praised for his handling of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, should replace Janet Napolitano as Homeland Security Secretary when she retires in September, a plurality of National Journal's National Security Insiders say.
Nearly 40 percent chose Allen over several other names commonly floated as possible replacements for Napolitano. "The next Secretary must reassure those who demand stronger border security in return for immigration reform, and implement reform, a the Herculean management challenge," one Insider said. "On both counts Allen is best. Further, he now has experience in the private sector; it will be critical to smooth and efficient implementation of reform." Allen, former commandant of the Coast Guard, is now an executive vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton. (Disclosure: Allen is a National Journal Insider but was not included in this poll.)
"Thad Allen would bring a degree of competence to DHS that it sorely needs," one Insider said. Another said Allen has "all the right qualifications, far better than anyone else on this list.
"Question is, does he have enough energy at this point in his career to put in the hours, and to put up with the worst bureaucratic mess in Washington?"
Twenty-eight percent of Insiders had other suggestions, including Wilson Center CEO Jane Harman, the former California congresswoman who was House Intelligence Committee ranking Democrat. Harman, one Insider said, "has demonstrated she knows how to manage, she knows Washington, and she understands the demands of homeland defense and how to balance them with civil liberties." Two Insiders wrote in Rand Beers, a Homeland Security undersecretary for National Protection and Programs. "Beers is currently No. 3 in DHS and a superb choice for a smooth transition and a knowledgeable player."
Ray Kelly, the New York City police commissioner who has developed a national reputation since 9/11, earned 18 percent of the vote, followed by Jane Holl Lute, who until recently served as Napolitano's No. 2 and left the department to work on international Internet issues, with 13 percent. Only 2 percent of Insiders voted for Transportation Security Administration Administrator John Pistole, and no one voted for Craig Fugate, Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator.
Separately, the White House acknowledges a "zero option" of leaving no U.S. troops in Afghanistan past the 2014 deadline to end combat operations is on the table, even though no decisions have been made. Two-thirds of Insiders would not support that option.
"Because the Karzai government is so weak, if NATO forces wholly pull out, the Afghan security forces will likely take power in a coup," one Insider said. "Lacking political experience in a fractious land where central authority has long been weak, the security forces will be unable to shape a political consensus to end the fighting. Risks of terrorist safe havens in Afghanistan -- America's main reason for intervening -- would escalate."
Another Insider said the option is unsound both as a policy and as a negotiating gambit. "Simply floating the idea reveals yet again that after more than a dozen years of our Afghan adventure, we still have no understanding of how to deal with Afghans."
One-third of Insiders would support leaving no follow-on force. The troops, one Insider said, "will not be enough to make a difference on security; they will not be able to make a military silk purse out of the Afghani military, and they will be targets."
"Time to end America's longest war -- completely!" another Insider added.