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Security Insiders: Thad Allen Should Replace Napolitano as Homeland Security Secretary

Insiders do not support "zero option" in Afghanistan after 2014.

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.

National Journal's National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of more than 100 defense and foreign policy experts. They include: Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Marion Blakey, Kit Bond, Stuart Bowen, Paula Broadwell, Mike Breen, Mark Brunner, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Wendy Chamberlin, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Lorne Craner, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Robert Danin, Richard Danzig, Daniel Drezner, Mackenzie Eaglen, Paul Eaton, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Stephen Ganyard, Daniel Goure, Mark Green, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, John Hamre, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Michael Herson, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Linda Hudson, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Donald Kerrick, Rachel Kleinfeld, Lawrence Korb, David Kramer, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, James Lindsay, Justin Logan, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Ronald Marks, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kevin Nealer, Michael Oates, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Larry Prior, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Frank Ruggiero, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Matthew Sherman, Jennifer Sims, Constanze Stelzenm├╝ller, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Richard Wilhelm, Tamara Wittes, Dov Zakheim, and Juan Zarate.

1. Who should replace retiring Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano? Here are some popular names suggested, but please feel free to write in a response:

 (58 votes)

  • Thad Allen 39%
  • Other 28%
  • Ray Kelly 18%
  • Jane Holl Lute 13%
  • John Pistole 2%
  • Craig Fugate 0%

Thad Allen

"This guy knows how to get things done in a bipartisan way."

"Ray Kelly was offered the job before and turned it down so his candidacy begs the question, 'what's changed Ray?' While the rest have some appeal at some level, the one that makes the best sense is Thad Allen based on experience, reputation, and bipartisan support."


"Based on their long opposition to the NSA's massive domestic surveillance programs, Mark Udall and Ron Wyden are the only ones truly qualified for the job (which is why neither will be offered it)."

"For its second decade, Homeland Security needs a respected but informed outsider, not a promotion from within. Willliam Webster, please, not L. Patrick Gray."

"One of the most tiresome habits of D.C. politics is the 'name game' for a newly opened position. Homeland Security is about D.C. recognizing it is not the center of the universe -- the terrorist fight is about state and local authorities coordinating with the Federal government to fight 'lone wolf' and small cell actions, like Boston. The challenge falls more to a governor than inside the beltway players or local police chiefs."

"DHS was a terrible idea and ought to be abolished."

Ray Kelly

"Kelly would bring the local law enforcement understanding to the table and what needs to be done to foster better cooperation between state, local,  and feds (which is really why DHS was set up in the first place)."

Jane Holl Lute

"Jane Holl Lute is proven, no-nonsense, smart as a whip. She can do the job well and should be given the opportunity."

"Jane knows her ways around the bureaucracy. She's tough. That's what the Department needs most."

John Pistole

"Pistole has done a great job with a very difficult agency and has earned rare praise for an Obama official from Republicans."

2. While no decisions have been made, 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. Would you support it?

(59 votes)

  • No 67%
  • Yes 33%


"A zero option would be against U.S. and Afghan interests. Iraq could do without us, but not well, as it turns out. A zero option would be the predecessor of zero aid."

"Some help in training, etc., will be required."

"The strategic importance of Afghanistan to U.S. interests extends far beyond notions of the Taliban and al Qaida. We left behind one vacuum based in the 2008 agreement in Iraq; we should avoid creating a second vacuum."

"The zero option guarantees victory to the Taliban. Period."

"The 'zero option' would risk the loss of Afghanistan, for which Americans made so many sacrifices. If the Taliban take over, terrorists will have the same kind of launching pad for further attacks on the United States as 9/11. In addition, pulling all U.S. troops out essentially cedes any and all leverage we would have related to the economic interests associated with Afghanistan."

"Unless Karzai reverses himself, zero isn't in U.S. interest."

"Have we learned anything?"

"If the U.S. is utterly indifferent to what happens in and around Afghanistan in the next several years, then zero is a perfectly good number. But we're not."

"It would repeat the mistake we made after Soviet forces pulled out of Afghaistan in the 1980s. Hopefully, we have learned from that experience. Sadly, I expect we have not."

"It 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."

"As in Iraq, a zero option would all but eliminate our ability to influence the future of Afghanistan. It is a nice negotiating ploy, one that just might work because the Obama administration has a proven track record of choosing to bring the troops home in lieu of protecting U.S. interests abroad."

"Such foolishness is hopefully a negotiating ploy with a very frustrating Karzai. At the least, keeping some modest training force, special ops, and Agency cadre is prudent."

"We spend blood and treasure to keep that place from going back into the hands of the Taliban and likely AQ. It would be an insult to those who died if that happens and a permanent mark on the Obama administration's legacy."


"This will be resolved by the Afghans for us. There will be no SOFA."

"Under current policies they should be out now."

"The positive difference that a few thousand troops would make is hard to see."

"No good strategic reason to be there. Al Qaida as an organized force is largely vanquished in that region. Karzai not worth propping up. Taliban is a local problem. If bad actors decide they want to try to act up seriously on an international scale, they should know we'll be back with drones, special ops, etc., in a heartbeat."

"Zero was such a great option in Iraq, wasn't it? And we did zero once before in Afghanistan to out great dismay. And now we're going to zero again because of a pissy VTC with Karzai??"

"Lost cause, cut bait, and move to a new fishing hole."

"Yes, but only as a negotiating ploy. You have to question what we've been doing in Afghanistan if we haven't established a relationship with that nation's government that gives us military access when and where we need it. We're not thinking strategically here. A U.S. presence in Afghanistan could be a good stabilizing force, but I don't think the  administration has the imagination to make that happen."

"We have done what can be done in Afghanistan. The problem lies in Pakistan."

"I'd support going back in time and pursuing a zero option several years ago, if possible. Good money after bad."

"It is unclear what we are trying to accomplish in Afghanistan, and likely the tribal culture will prevail regardless of what we do."

"The lack of governance precludes any agreement and will naturally default to the zero option. There is no longer a U.S. vital interest that will outweigh this reality."

This article appears in the July 23, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.

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