If George Bush loses the US election in three weeks' time, he and all the senior members of his national security team will be out on their ears next January.
If he wins, a frenzy of in-fighting, intrigue and back-stabbing over who gets, or keeps, the top jobs in a second Bush administration will instantly ensue.
In some ways, this quadrennial Washington ritual has already begun. The national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, has recently come under withering fire for what is happening in Iraq.
"If Rice did her job and told Bush how ludicrous the case was for an Iraqi nuclear program, then Bush terribly misled the public," the New York Times said last week.
"If not, she should have resigned for allowing her boss to start a war on the basis of bad information and incompetent analysis."
The newspaper said the reputation of Colin Powell, the secretary of state, had also been "gravely damaged" by his misleading prewar UN presentation on Iraqi weapons capability.
Mr Powell, habitually described as a moderating voice in the administration, has sent mixed signals about staying on. The former general has lost more bruising internal political battles than he has won. While Mr Bush may want to keep him, Mr Powell may lack the stomach for it.
The former CIA director George Tenet has already fallen on his sword. He resigned abruptly in June, citing personal reasons. But his departure handily preceded publication of the highly critical, official report on the September 11 attacks.
Yet among those still holding high office, the position of Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, looks weakest of all. Fierce controversy and extraordinary mis judgments have marked his time at the Pentagon. Washington insiders suggest the fact he was not sacked long ago reflects Mr Bush's visceral reluctance to admit that serious mistakes have been made in Iraq and the "war on terror". But whether the remarkable Mr Rumsfeld, 72, will keep his post in a second Bush administration is another matter entirely.
His job record makes dramatic and disturbing reading. It was he who gave the world Camp X-Ray at Guantánamo Bay and the concept of an "enemy combatant" lacking all legal rights. It was he who presided over the Abu Ghraib prison abuses in Iraq.
And it was Mr Rumsfeld who oversaw the secret deployment of special forces snatch squads to imprison or assassinate suspected "high-value" al-Qaida operatives, in breach of international law.
By general agreement, he disastrously underestimated the number of troops needed to secure Afghanistan and Iraq, and fired or sidelined officers who disagreed with him. He failed to anticipate the Iraqi insurgency, flippantly dismissing post-invasion chaos with quips like "stuff happens" and "freedom is untidy".
The Pentagon also backed the wrong political horse in the form of Ahmad Chalabi.
Simultaneously, Mr Rumsfeld was alienating the Nato allies, whom the US now very much needs, with divisive remarks about "old" and "new" Europe. His ill-concealed contempt for the UN further undermined US aims.
And all along he was among the most forceful proponents of bogus WMD claims and of supposed links between Saddam and al-Qaida. Last week, to gasps of incredulity, he briefly stated that no such links existed before claiming he was "misunderstood".
Mr Rumsfeld tends to laugh off criticism. "I'm a survivor," he boasted during a visit to Iraq last May.
With this kind of CV, it seems improbable that he will make the cut a second time round.
But first, Mr Bush needs to secure his own job.
© Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004