Bush eyes candidates for service posts

Nicholson, Untermeyer, James among picks for Army, Navy, Air Force

January 17, 2001|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Richard L. Armitage, a former Pentagon official expected to take the No. 2 job at Defense with the incoming Bush administration, is instead in line to be Colin L. Powell's deputy at the State Department, Pentagon and Republican sources said.

Jim Nicholson, departing chairman of the Republican National Committee, West Point graduate and decorated Vietnam veteran, is under consideration by President-elect George W. Bush to become the next secretary of the Army.

And Chase Untermeyer, White House personnel director in the previous Bush administration and one-time assistant secretary of the Navy, is among those being looked at as the civilian chief of the Navy.

Bush transition officials began Friday an intensive review of prospects for service secretary positions and other senior national security posts, though no announcements are expected until Powell, the secretary of state-designate, and Defense Secretary-designate Donald H. Rumsfeld are confirmed by the Senate, sources said.

A 1967 Naval Academy graduate and one of Powell's closest friends, Armitage served as assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs under President Ronald Reagan and held various State Department positions during the Bush and Clinton administrations.

In February 1993, he ruffled the feathers of the incoming Clinton administration while serving as ambassador to the former Soviet republics, a post to which he had been appointed by the president-elect's father. Speaking in Nashville, Tenn., Armitage said that then-Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin was "at the end of his usefulness" and lacked a "grand vision."

Those views infuriated State Department officials and Armitage was soon out of a job. News reports at the time said Ambassador-at-large Strobe Talbott, a senior adviser on Russian affairs, expressed "outrage" over the comments.

Talbott now holds the deputy secretary of state job that Armitage stands to take over.

Armitage helped draft a speech that candidate Bush gave at the Citadel in South Carolina in September 1999. Bush said in the speech that the Clinton administration had weakened the U.S. military with "vague, endless and aimless" missions abroad.

Armitage was once considered a shoo-in to be deputy secretary of defense in the new administration, although that changed when Bush tapped Rumsfeld for the secretary's job.

Rumsfeld met with Armitage but has reportedly selected Paul D. Wolfowitz, dean of the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies. Wolfowitz held the same Pentagon post when Vice President-elect Dick Cheney was secretary of defense under Bush's father.

Armitage did not return phone calls and Powell's spokesman, Bill Smullen, declined to comment.

Powell in his autobiography describes Armitage as "big, bald, brassy and built like an anvil." He was part of a select group of defense and foreign policy advisers to the Bush campaign known as "Vulcans." Armitage is an inveterate weightlifter who completed four combat tours in Vietnam. In the late 1970s, he worked as an administrative assistant to Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas.

During the Persian Gulf war in 1991, Armitage was President George Bush's special emissary to Jordan's King Hussein. He also served as a special negotiator on the U.S. military bases in the Philippines. An Armitage-negotiated agreement to extend the lease on the mammoth Subic Bay naval base for 10 years was rejected by the Philippine Senate.

The Philippine negotiator later complained that the blunt-talking Armitage was an "enforcer" for U.S. foreign policy.

Meanwhile, new names have surfaced as possible service secretaries. As the top civilian jobs in the Air Force, Navy and Army, the secretaries are charged with recruitment, training and retention, along with a host of other administrative responsibilities, but they are not in the operational chain of command.

Nicholson, the departing RNC chairman and prospective Army secretary, has met with the current secretary, Louis Caldera, to talk about the job. One Pentagon source said the Army post "is Nicholson's to turn down." A spokesman for Nicholson said he would not comment.

Nicholson was awarded a Bronze Star and Combat Infantryman's Badge for duty in Vietnam, where he served as an Army Ranger and paratrooper. He was later in the Army Reserve, retiring with the rank of colonel.

Former Rep. Tillie Fowler, the just-retired Republican lawmaker from Florida who had been a member of the House Armed Services Committee, also is being mentioned as a possible Army or Navy secretary.

Untermeyer, who said he wants the Navy job, was assistant Navy secretary during the Reagan administration. A Harvard graduate, he saw duty on a destroyer during the Vietnam War and has been a director of Voice of America.

Asked yesterday whether he was being considered for Navy secretary, Untermeyer said: "I've indicated an interest. Beyond that, I can't say more."

Also being discussed for Navy secretary is Bush friend and Texas businessman Roger Staubach, the Dallas Cowboys' Hall of Fame quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy in 1963 while at the Naval Academy.

For Air Force secretary, speculation is centering on Maj. Gen. Daniel James III, a decorated Vietnam War aviator chosen by Governor Bush in 1995 to head the Texas Air National Guard. James is the son of the late Air Force Gen. Daniel "Chappy" James, one of the "Tuskegee Airmen," the fabled group of black aviators in World War II.

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