Bush removes Rumsfeld as defense chief

Former CIA Director Gates to succeed him

voter disapproval over Iraq acknowledged

Rumsfeld Resigns

November 09, 2006|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Julie Hirschfeld Davis,Sun Reporter

WASHINGTON --President Bush, stung by election losses that he acknowledged were a rebuke of the Iraq war, dismissed Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday and named former CIA Director Robert M. Gates to replace him.

Conceding that voters spurned Republicans in part "to register their displeasure with the lack of progress" in Iraq, Bush said at a White House news conference that there was a need for "new leadership" and "fresh perspective" at the Pentagon. Gates sits on a panel that is expected to present Bush with a new Iraq policy next week.

Replacing Rumsfeld, the longest-serving member of his Cabinet, was a stunning turn for a president who has staked his legacy - and, to some degree, the fortunes of his party - on a war plan that has lost the support of most Americans.

Bush said he had been ready to replace Rumsfeld regardless of the election's outcome, but the move was widely viewed as a bow to the new reality in Washington, in which the president will be forced to work with Democrats to find a way out of Iraq and advance his domestic agenda.

Bush said he would meet early next week with a bipartisan commission of which Gates is a member - co-chaired by Republican former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Democratic Rep. Lee H. Hamilton of Indiana - in what could be the start of a substantial change in the U.S. approach to Iraq.

Democrats greeted Rumsfeld's replacement as a sign that Bush was heeding a call from voters for a course change in Iraq and said they hoped that the president would follow it with concrete shifts in strategy.

"I welcome the long-overdue change in leadership at the Pentagon. Now we need a change in policy," Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, said in a statement.

It was unclear, however, how far Bush was willing to go in reconsidering his policy, particularly in hastening a U.S. troop withdrawal. The president touted his selection of Gates as proof that he was open to new ideas but he rejected the idea of a quick pullout, saying that voters had not demanded such a move.

"I can understand Americans saying, `Come home.' But I don't know if they said, `Come home and leave behind an Iraq that could end up being a safe haven for al-Qaida.' I don't believe they said that," Bush said.

The president said that replacing Rumsfeld was a way of showing the public that he is not locked into a failed approach.

"`Stay the course' means, `Let's get the job done,' but it doesn't mean staying stuck on a strategy or tactics that may not be working. So, perhaps I need to do a better job of explaining that we're constantly adjusting," Bush said. "What the American people hear today is, we're constantly looking for fresh perspective."

Rumsfeld's ouster came just a week after Bush issued his most recent endorsement of the Pentagon chief, telling reporters that the 74-year-old defense secretary - a lightning rod for criticism of Bush's Iraq policy, including among retired military brass and a growing chorus of Republicans - was performing well and would stay on.

The president acknowledged that he had lied earlier about Rumsfeld's impending departure so as not to "inject a major decision about this war in the final days of a campaign" and because he had not yet had a chance to speak with Gates or conclude his discussions with the defense secretary. Those talks, Bush said, had been going on for some time.

In naming Gates, an experienced Washington hand who served in Republican and Democratic administrations, including that of Bush's father, the president was signaling a willingness to make substantial changes to his war plan, analysts, strategists and lawmakers said.

Bush "recognizes - certainly, this election documented - the fact that there's a great deal of concern, deep concern among the people of the United States" about Iraq and Afghanistan, said Republican Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee. The "convergence" of a new defense secretary and the Baker commission's report will influence the administration's thinking on Iraq, he said.

Republican Sen. Susan M. Collins of Maine called Rumsfeld's departure "the right opportunity for the administration to develop a new strategy," adding that Bush's approach thus far has failed to curb the violence in Iraq.

"It strikes me as inevitable that there will be serious discussions almost immediately about a nontrivial change in our [Iraq] policy," said William A. Galston, a former domestic adviser to President Bill Clinton.

Gates "knows that by accepting this job he's stepping into a very difficult situation that could disrupt his life and blemish his reputation," said Galston, adding that he would be unlikely to do so merely "in order to preside over the continuation of a failed policy."

Republican moderates who have long questioned Bush's war strategy said Rumsfeld's departure would be a chance for a much-needed re-evaluation.

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