Rumsfeld resigns after voters reject Iraq war By Mike McCarthy

dpa German Press Agency
Published: Wednesday November 8, 2006

Washington- US President George W Bush on Wednesday announced that Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has resigned, one day after his Republican party was defeated in congressional elections that largely reflected voter discontent over the war in Iraq. Rumsfeld was a key target of Democrats who captured control of the House and appeared close to retaking the Senate by campaigning on public anger over the conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 2,800 US soldiers and on the lack of a strategy by the Bush administration to resolve the conflict.

"After a series of thoughtful conversations Secretary Rumsfeld and I have agreed that the time is right for new leadership at the Pentagon," Bush said in the surprise announcement at a White House press conference.

Just a week before the election, Bush had steadfastly defended his war minister and insisted that Rumsfeld would stay in the job until Bush's term ends in January 2009. Bush, however, met with Rumsfeld on Tuesday as polls indicated the Democrats would prevail to discuss the departure of the 74-year-old defence secretary.

Bush named Robert Gates, 63, director of the CIA from 1991 to 1993 and current president of Texas A&M University, as his nominee to succeed Rumsfeld. Bush's choice must be be confirmed by the Senate.

For the last three years, Rumsfeld has faced increasing calls to step down, a trend that began in large part after the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. Rumsfeld has previously said that following the scandal, Bush, known for his loyalty twice rejected offers to step down.

The final blow came to Rumsfeld in Tuesday's elections when voters overwhelming shifted toward Democrats after months of polls showing the US public believed the decision to invade Iraq was a mistake.

"I recognize that many Americans voted last night to register their displeasure with the lack of progress being made there," Bush said.

Prior to the press conference, Bush spoke with Democratic leaders and pledged to work with them, but remained determined to prevail in Iraq and the war on terrorism and warned al-Qaeda that Tuesday's outcome and Rumsfeld's resignation should not be interpreted as a sign of weakness.

"To our enemies: Do not be joyful. Do not confuse the workings of our democracy with a lack of will. Our nation is committed to bringing you to justice," Bush said.

Rumsfeld has been Bush's only defence secretary and the longest serving one at the post since the 1960s. His tenure was marked by an abrasive style of management that often frustrated the top military brass. Rumsfeld will be credited for an invasion plan that quickly toppled Saddam Hussein's regime in April of 2003, but by not thoroughly planning for post-war Iraq and ignoring the advice of his generals.

The last month heading into Tuesday's election was marred by increased levels of violence in Baghdad and the highest American death toll in Iraq in more than two years. At the beginning of the year, Rumsfeld suggested that a gradual withdrawal of US soldiers could begin in 2006.

But the presence of US troops has instead increased from about 130,000 to 140,000 as Iraqi forces have been unable to take control of security operations or quell the insurgency and the outbreak of sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites that has brought Iraq to the brink of civil war.

During their meeting on Tuesday, Bush said Rumsfeld agreed that it was time for a fresh perspective to review the administration's policy in Iraq.

"He, himself, understands that Iraq is not working well enough, fast enough," Bush said.

The Democratic party won control of the House for the first time in 12 years in elections on Tuesday and were winning in crucial races to regain the Senate.

Among the prominent Democrats who have called for Rumsfeld to step down in recent years have been former presidential candidate and current Senator John Kerry, and senators Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton.

At least eight former generals who served under Rumsfeld in Iraq have also called for Rumsfeld's sacking.

After winning the midterm elections viewed as a referendum on Bush, Democrats wasted no time in stepping up calls for Rumsfeld's resignation.

Less than two hours before Bush's announcement, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House who is poised to become the top US lawmaker, said Bush should show his commitment to changing course in Iraq by removing Rumsfeld.

"To change the civilian leadership at the Pentagon, that would signal an openness to new, fresh ideas on the subject," Pelosi said.

Bush, Rumsfeld and Gates were scheduled to hold a combined press conference later on Wednesday to discuss the change at the Pentagon's helm, the White House said.

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency