Hannah may now, therefore, find himself the new point man for the neo-conservatives in the Bush administration, replacing not only Libby but former Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, who were the driving forces at the Pentagon not only for the war with Iraq but the now almost universally criticized and discredited occupation policies that failed to anticipate, avert or defeat the still spreading Sunni guerrilla insurgency there.

It has yet to be seen, however, if Hannah, for all his personal and policy identification with Libby, will be able to replicate his former boss’s driving determination to push his and Cheney’s policies through.

National Security Adviser Steve Hadley is widely acknowledged by administration insiders not to be a strong personality. And he has had far less of an impact on the NSC than his former boss, current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He certainly does not enjoy the same high standing as she did in President Bush’s eyes.

Rice repeatedly was able to block policies urged by Secretary of State Colin Powell, throwing her weight more often than not behind Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. It is hard to imagine Hadley ever being able to play that role against Rice.

However, Hadley has had another important and un-remarked upon function in the current corridors of power. By occupying the top spot at the NSC, he diverts public attention from his long-controversial but energetic and dynamic deputy Elliot Abrams.

Abrams remains a driving, even dominant force, in Bush administration decision-making and continues to enjoy the full confidence of the president, the vice president, Rice and Rumsfeld. And after all the upheavals, personnel departures and unpleasant policy surprises of the past year, that quartet remains the key inner circle of the administration with both the power and the determination to make foreign and national security policies firmly concentrated in their hands. ~Martin Sieff, UPI