Rumsfeld resigns hours after Democrats win control of House
WASHINGTON – Humor was not Donald H. Rumsfeld’s best-known trait during his tenure at the Pentagon. But on the day he called it quits, he cracked a telling joke.”It recalls to mind the statement by Winston Churchill, something to the effect that: ‘I have benefited greatly from criticism, and at no time have I suffered a lack thereof,”‘ Rumsfeld said with a slight grin.That from a man who was a lightning rod for criticism of the Iraq war and other Bush administration defense policies. After fending off the critics for much of his nearly six years at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld said Wednesday that he and President Bush decided it was time to start fresh, with perhaps new ideas on Iraq.Iraq was the central issue of Rumsfeld’s 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 in Congress became critical of the war’s management, and growing numbers of politicians were urging Bush to replace Rumsfeld.Bush said Robert Gates, 63, a former CIA director who has served in numerous 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.Bush clearly was hoping that replacing Rumsfeld with Gates would provide impetus for a fresh start on U.S. policy and a chance to establish a stronger rapport with the new Congress, in which Democrats will run the House and perhaps the Senate. 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 news conference.In a later appearance at the White House with Rumsfeld and Gates, Bush thanked Rumsfeld for his service and predicted that Gates would bring new 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 showing he would not roll over to those pushing for a quick U.S. 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.Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Rumsfeld was not leaving immediately. Rumsfeld planned to deliver a speech Thursday at Kansas State University on the global fight against terrorism.Just last week Bush told reporters he expected Rumsfeld, 74, to remain until the end of the administration’s term.Gates ran the CIA under the first President Bush during the first Gulf war. He retired from government in 1993.He joined the CIA in 1966 and is the only agency employee to rise from an entry level job to become director. A native of Kansas, he made a name for himself as an analyst specializing in the former Soviet Union and he served intelligence agencies for more than a quarter-century.Numerous Democrats in Congress had sought Rumsfeld’s resignation for months, asserting that his management of the war and of the military had been a resounding failure. Critics also accused Rumsfeld of not fully considering the advice of his generals and of refusing to consider alternative courses of action.Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan and Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri – the top Democrats on the Armed Services committees – said the resignation would only be a positive step if accompanied by a change in policy.”I think it is critical that this change be more than just a different face on the old policy,” Skelton said.Rumsfeld, 74, has served in the job longer than anyone except Robert McNamara, who became secretary of defense during the Kennedy administration and remained until 1968. Rumsfeld is the only person to have served in the job twice; his previous tour was during the Ford administration.Rumsfeld had twice previously offered his resignation to Bush – once during the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in spring 2004 and again shortly after that. Both times the president refused to let him leave.Gates took over the CIA as acting director in 1987, when William Casey was terminally ill with cancer. Questions were raised about Gates’ knowledge of the Iran-Contra scandal, so he withdrew from consideration to take over the CIA permanently. Yet he stayed on as deputy director.Then-National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who has been a critic of the younger Bush’s policies, asked Gates to be his deputy in 1989 during the administration of Bush’s father. President George H.W. Bush, a former CIA director himself, asked Gates to run the CIA two years later. Gates admitted he should have taken more seriously the early indications that money was being diverted to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.Gates eventually won confirmation. But in his hearings, he came under fire by CIA officials who said he manipulated intelligence as a senior analyst in the 1980s.Melvin Goodman, a former CIA division chief for Soviet affairs, testified that Gates politicized the intelligence on Iran, Nicaragua, Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. “Gates’ role in this activity was to corrupt the process and the ethics of intelligence on all of these issues,” Goodman testified.The Bush administration’s use of the intelligence on Iraq has been a central theme of criticism from Democrats who say the White House stretched faulty intelligence from U.S. spy agencies to justify invading Iraq in 2003. If confirmed, Gates will inherit the fallout from those problems and the war raging in Iraq.