WASHINGTON - After years of defending his secretary of defense, President
Bush on Wednesday announced Donald H. Rumsfeld's resignation within hours of the
Democrats' triumph in congressional elections. Bush reached back to his father's
administration to tap a former CIA director to run the Pentagon.
Robert Gates, President Bush's
nominee for defense secretary, right, accompanied by outgoing Defense
Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld speaks in the Oval Office of the White House
in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2006 where President Bush, not shown,
made the transition announcement. [AP]
The Iraq war was the central issue of Rumsfeld's nearly six-year tenure, and
unhappiness with the war was a major element of voter dissatisfaction
Tuesday - and the main impetus for his departure. Even some GOP lawmakers
became critical of the war's management, and growing numbers of politicians were
urging Bush to replace Rumsfeld.
Bush said Robert Gates, 63, who has served in a variety of national security
jobs under six previous presidents, would be nominated to replace Rumsfeld.
Gates, currently the president of Texas A&M University, is a Bush family
friend and a member of an independent group studying the way ahead in Iraq.
The White House hopes that replacing Rumsfeld with Gates can help refresh US
policy on the deeply unpopular war and perhaps establish a stronger rapport with
the new Congress. Rumsfeld had a rocky relationship with many lawmakers.
"Secretary Rumsfeld and I agreed that sometimes it's necessary to have a
fresh perspective," Bush said in the abrupt announcement during a postelection
In a later appearance at the White House with Rumsfeld and Gates at his side,
Bush praised both men, thanked Rumsfeld for his service and predicted that Gates
would bring fresh ideas.
"The secretary of defense must be a man of vision who can see threats still
over the horizon and prepare our nation to meet them. Bob Gates is the right man
to meet both of these critical challenges," Bush said.
But underscoring that he would not bow to those pushing for a quick US
withdrawal, Bush also said, "I'd like our troops to come home, too, but I want
them to come home with victory."
In brief remarks, Rumsfeld described the Iraq conflict as a "little
understood, unfamiliar war" that is "complex for people to comprehend." Upon his
return to the Pentagon after appearing with Bush and Gates, Rumsfeld said it was
a good time for him to leave.
"It will be a different Congress, a different environment, moving toward a
presidential election and a lot of partisanship, and it struck me that this
would be a good thing for everybody," Rumsfeld told reporters.
There was little outward reaction among officials at the Pentagon, beyond
surprise at the abrupt announcement.
Asked whether Rumsfeld's departure signaled a new direction in a war that has
claimed the lives of more than 2,800 US troops and cost more than $300 billion,
Bush said, "Well, there's certainly going to be new leadership at the Pentagon."
Voters appeared to be telling politicians that the sooner the war ends the
better. Surveys at polling places showed that about six in 10 voters disapproved
of the war and only a third believed it had improved long-term security in the
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Rumsfeld was not leaving immediately.
Rumsfeld planned to deliver a speech on the global war on terrorism at Kansas
State University on Thursday.
Just last week Bush told reporters that he expected
Rumsfeld, 74, to remain until the end of the administration's term. And although
Bush said Wednesday that his decision to replace Rumsfeld was not based on
politics, the announcement of a Pentagon shake-up came on the heels of Tuesday's