Defense Secretary Donald H Rumsfeld stepped down as defense secretary on Wednesday, one day after congressional elections in which opposition to the war in Iraq contributed to heavy Republican party losses.
President George W Bush said he would nominate Robert Gates, a former CIA director, to replace Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. Asked whether his announcement signalled a new direction in the war that has claimed the lives of more than 2,800 U.S. troops and thousands of Iraqis, Bush said, "Well, there's certainly going to be new leadership at the Pentagon."
Bush lavished praise on Rumsfeld, who has spent six stormy years at the Pentagon. He disclosed he met with Gates last Sunday, two days before elections in which Democrats swept to control of the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate. Last week, as he campaigned to save the Republican majority, Bush declared that Rumsfeld would remain at the Pentagon through the end of his term.
Rumsfeld, 74, was in his second tour of duty as defense chief. He first held the job a generation ago, when he was appointed by President Ford.
Gates is the president of Texas A&M University and a close friend of the Bush family. He served as director of the Central Intelligence for Bush's father from 1991 until 1993. Gates first joined the CIA in 1966 and served in the intelligence community for more than a quarter century, under six presidents. His nomination must be confirmed by the Senate. Whatever confidence Bush retained in Rumsfeld, the Cabinet officer's support in Congress had eroded significantly. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker-in-waiting, said at her first post-election news conference that Bush should replace the top civilian leadership at the Pentagon.
And Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who had intervened in the past to shore up Rumsfeld, issued a statement saying, "Washington must now work together in a bipartisan way Republicans and Democrats to outline the path to success in Iraq."