Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, has sent the clearest signal yet that, weary and frustrated, he does not intend to be around for a second George W. Bush term if the President wins re-election in November.
In classic Powell style, he does not deliver the message in person. Instead, confidants, notably his deputy Richard Armitage and his chief of staff Larry Wilkerson, have made his feelings plain in an lengthy article in the magazine GQ, clearly with the Secretary of State's blessing.
Mr Wilkerson tells GQ that in his opinion, Gen. Powell is "tired. Mentally and physically. And if the President were to ask him to stay on, he might for a transitional period but I don't think he'd want to do another four years."
Gen Powell's sole on-the-record comment to GQ on his intentions is a bald "I never speculate on that". But the article will fuel uncertainty about the Cabinet's shape in a second Bush administration.
Changes are likely at the Pentagon. The most widely mentioned possible successors at the State Department include Condoleezza Rice, Mr Bush's national security adviser, and Paul Bremer, the outgoing head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad.
The Powell who emerges from the interview is similar to the figure in journalist Bob Woodward's recent insider account of the run-up to the Iraq War (of which he sxeerms to have been a prime, but as usual unquoted, source). He comes across as a pragmatic secretary of state exhausted by constant battles with the neo-conservative hawks at the Pentagon and in the vice-President's office, in which, over Iraq at least, he is generally on the losing end.
Equally plain is the Secretary of State's disdain for the so-called "chickenhawks," in Mr Wilkerson's words, "people who have never been in the face of battle, who are making cavalier decisions about sending men and women out to die."
The chief of staff mentions by name Richard Perle, the former close adviser to the Pentagon, and Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy Secretary of Defense. "I call them utopians.. I don't care whether utopians are Vladimir Lenin in a sealed train or Paul Wolfowitz. You're never going to bring utopia and you're going to hurt a lot of people in the process of trying to do it."
Gen. Powell also appears to be haunted by the moment that is the nadir of his tenure, his presentation to the United Nations Security Council in February 2003, offering "proof" of Saddam Hussein's non-existent weapons of mass destruction. It's a source of great distress to the Secretary, Mr Armitage told GQ.
Mr Wilkerson evokes the atmosphere in the CIA meeting room in the days before the UN speech, when Gen. Powell and his aides worked around the clock to try and make a credible WMD case against Iraq, scouring the evidence for material that would save the Secretary of State from humiliation.
Harlan Ullman of the National War College, and friend and mentor of Gen Powell, confirms another open secret in Washington, of the Secretary's glacial relations with Dick Cheney, the vice-President. "I can tell you firsthand that there is a tremendous barrier between Cheney and Powell," Mr Ullman told the magazine.
Assuming he does leave, Gen. Powell's future is unclear. At 67, he is in the closing stages of his career. There have been suggestions he might become the next President of the World Bank, a post traditionally held by an American. This assumes that John Wolfensohn, a Clinton era appointee, steps down later this year after eight years.
But Gen. Powell might not be inclined to take a job that carries little clout with the current Republican administration, prone to see the Bank as an emanation of the ever suspect United Nations.Reuse content