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Bush says Rumsfeld stepping down, names replacement

SHARE Bush says Rumsfeld stepping down, names replacement

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, unable to fulfill U.S. goals in Iraq and Afghanistan during his tenure, is stepping down and will be replaced by former CIA Director Robert M. Gates, President George W. Bush said today.

"Secretary Rumsfeld and I agreed the time is right for new leadership at the Pentagon," Bush said at a White House news conference.

Rumsfeld, 74, oversaw the global fight against terrorism that followed the Sept. 11 attacks. While initially enjoying broad support, the continued violence in Iraq and Afghanistan has soured the public mood and raised questions about Rumsfeld's stewardship at the Pentagon.

In yesterday's congressional elections, Democrats took over the House and are within one seat of controlling the Senate in part because of public dissatisfaction with the course of the war in Iraq. The Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, both have called for Rumsfeld's ouster. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona also has said he had no confidence in Rumsfeld.

Gates was head of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1991 to 1993 under Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush. He first joined the spy agency in 1966, according to his official biography on the Web site of Texas A&M University. He has been president of the institution in College Station, Texas, sing Aug. 1, 2002. His nomination is subject to Senate confirmation.

Bush called Gates a "steady, solid leader who can help make the necessary adjustments in our approach to the current challenges."

A brusque and energetic management style, zeal to transform the military and unwillingness to admit mistakes made Rumsfeld one of Bush's most controversial Cabinet members. Criticism began soon after Rumsfeld's appointment in early 2001, much of it stemming from his fight to streamline the Army and Marines and reorganize the Pentagon.

His decision to shift focus and troops to Iraq from Afghanistan is increasingly drawing criticism as Taliban insurgents and their al-Qaeda regain strength in the Central Asian nation. At the same time, Iraq has been hit by a surge in sectarian and insurgent violence.

"To our enemies do not be joyful," Bush said. "Our nation is committed to bringing you to justice."

Bush said he and Rumsfeld met yesterday before the full results of the vote were known. He said the decision to remove Rumsfeld wasn't made in response to the elections.

Still, the political situation left Bush with little choice, said Michael O'Hanlon, a defense policy analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

"This whole debate about his stepping down could soon seem rather pointless unless Gates and Bush come up with some better and more effective approaches in Iraq," O'Hanlon said.

Bush, in a Nov. 1 interview, defended the defense secretary and said he wanted him to stay in the job. The other administration most closely associated with U.S. policy in Iraq is Vice President Dick Cheney. The president said today that he continued to have full confidence in Cheney.

Democratic Representative Ike Skelton of Missouri, who is in line to become chairman of the House Armed Service Committee, called Rumsfeld's resignation an "important opportunity" to take a fresh approach on the war.

"It is critical that this change be more than just a different face on the old policy," Skelton said in a statement.

Senate Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee also said the change may "bring a fresh perspective to our fight on the global war on terror."

Democrats were quick today to call the election a mandate to change the U.S. course in Iraq.

"Nowhere was the call for a new direction more clear from the American people than in the war in Iraq," Pelosi said today. "We know that stay-the-course is not working, has not made our country safer, it has not honored our commitment to our troops and it has not brought stability to the region. We must not continue on this catastrophic path."

Bush said there was "no question" that the war in Iraq was on voters' minds in the election. He said he was changing the leadership at the Defense Department "to achieve something I think most people want which is victory."

He said there were limits on how much change he is willing to make. "If the goal is success then we can work together," Bush said. "If the goal is get out now regardless, then it's going to be hard to work together."

The death toll of U.S. military personnel in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion stood at 2,836 as of today, and more than 21,572 have been wounded, according to Pentagon figures.