WASHINGTON - Signaling an openness to a broad shift in his Iraq policy,
President George W. Bush on Saturday described his new pick for defense
secretary, Robert Gates, as an able manager and "agent of change."
This week's surprise announcement of the ouster of Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld -- a lightning rod for criticism of the administration's handling of
the Iraq war -- followed a crushing defeat for Bush's Republicans in Tuesday's
In Gates, Bush chose a former CIA director and pragmatist expected to be more
inclined to consensus-building than the combative Rumsfeld.
"He has experience leading large and complex organizations, and he has shown
that he is an agent of change," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "As
secretary of defense, he will provide a fresh outlook on our strategy in Iraq,
and what we need to do to prevail."
Bush has acknowledged that voter frustration over Iraq helped fuel wins for
Democrats that swept them to power in both houses of Congress for the first time
in 12 years.
While indicating he wants new ideas on Iraq, Bush has insisted a quick
withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq is not on the table.
Gates, the head of Texas A&M University, has been a member of the Iraq
Study Group looking at alternative approaches on Iraq. But due to his nomination
as defense secretary, Gates plans to leave the panel that is led by Bush family
friend and former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee
Hamilton, the White House said.
The White House is pushing to get Gates confirmed in the final weeks of the
outgoing Congress, before power switches to Democrats early next year.
Bush is to meet on Monday with the Baker-Hamilton group. The White House has
said little about what the focus of the meeting would be but has made clear the
panel will not be presenting its final recommendations.
According to a report in the New York Times, the Pentagon has begun a broad
review of U.S. military strategy in Iraq, Afghanistan and other crisis areas.
In his radio message, Bush said he would welcome the study group's
suggestions. Also, in a conciliatory tone he has emphasized in the aftermath of
the election, Bush said he wanted to listen to ideas from Democrats in Congress
"on the best way to support our troops on the front lines -- and win the war on
The president used part of the radio address to mark Veterans Day, saying the
elections highlighted freedoms Americans fought for in past wars.
"Whatever your opinion of the outcome (of the U.S. elections), all Americans
can take pride in the example our democracy sets for the world," Bush said.
Delivering a radio message on behalf of Democrats, the party's national
chairman, Howard Dean, suggested they will keep up the pressure for change, not
just on Iraq but on other policies as well.
"Americans across the country made it clear that they want a new direction in
Iraq and in the war on terror," Dean said.