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New U.S. Defense Secretary Seen As 'Fresh Start'

Bush (left) with Rumsfeld on November 8 (epa) November 9, 2006 -- Newly victorious Democratic Party politicians in the United States have welcomed the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld after nearly six years as defense secretary, saying it offers a chance for a "fresh start" for U.S. policy in Iraq.

President George W. Bush announced Rumsfeld's resignation on November 8, the day after the opposition Democrats won control of the House of Representatives and appeared to win control of the Senate in national elections.

Bush has named former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Robert Gates to replace Rumsfeld.

Acknowledging that voter discontent over Iraq contributed to the defeat of candidates from his Republican Party, Bush told reporters he expected Gates to provide a "fresh perspective" on how the U.S. can achieve its goals in Iraq.
"There has to be a signal of a change of direction on the part of the president." -- incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi prior to the announcement

Gates "will provide the [Defense] Department with a fresh perspective and new ideas on how America can achieve our goals in Iraq," Bush said. "Bob understands how to lead large, complex institutions and transform them to meet new challenges. As director of Central Intelligence following the collapse of the Soviet Union, he was responsible for leading all the foreign intelligence agencies of the United States."

Gates has recently been serving as a member of the Iraq Study Group, a panel of U.S. political figures that has been developing recommendations for possible changes in U.S. policy in Iraq.

Messages Of Support

In Australia, Prime Minister John Howard, said on November 9 at a news conference in Canberra that Bush "clearly...reacted to the [November 7]
vote...and that is sensible. But his reaction does not amount
to a fundamental change in direction."

In Kabul, Jawad Ludin, chief of staff for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, said, "We are sad that he has resigned."

He added, "We in Afghanistan are very pleased and very grateful for [Rumsfeld's] support for Afghanistan."

...And Criticism

But Rumsfeld's critics have been equally outspoken. U.S. Senator John McCain, a possible presidential candidate in 2008 from Bush's own Republican Party, said Rumsfeld's resignation was long overdue.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has expressed his admiration for Rumsfeld (epa file photo)

"There were many of us who had expressed a lack of confidence in Secretary Rumsfeld for a long period of time," he said. "I had, but I also respected the right of the president to choose his team."

Throughout the congressional elections campaign, which focused heavily on the success or failure of Bush's Iraq strategy, Rumsfeld's name was at the center of the debate.

Democratic Party leaders repeatedly called for his dismissal. The incoming speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, lost no time repeating that call following the Democratic Party's victory.

"There has to be a signal of a change of direction on the part of the president," she said. "The one good place he could start is a place where not only the Democrats and large numbers of the American people, but the voices of the military have spoken out, and that is to change the civilian leadership at the Pentagon. That would signal an openness to new, fresh ideas on the subject [of Iraq]."

Resistant To Change?

Yet, until Bush announced Rumsfeld's resignation late on November 8, there was no sign the president would give up his defense secretary. Throughout the congressional election campaigning, Bush in fact rejected just such calls.

Asked to explain the contradiction, Bush said a journalist "asked me the question, one week before the campaign, and basically [it] was are you going to do something about Rumsfeld and the vice president. And my answer was, you know, they're going to stay on. And the reason why [I said that] is I didn't want to inject a major decision about this war in the final days of a campaign. And, so the only way to answer that question and to get you on to another question was to give you that answer."

Rumsfeld's tenure as civilian head of the Pentagon has been controversial both for his policies and leadership style.

Supporters praise him as a decisive leader and strategist in using military power to respond to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. They also credit him for efforts to redefine the U.S. military into a more technology-driven force better prepared to fight guerrilla battles as well as conventional wars.

But critics say Rumsfeld has too little success to show for his policies and does not adequately listen to military leaders of the armed forces. They note that violence continues to grow in Iraq and Afghanistan following the easy U.S. victories over the Saddam Hussein and Taliban regimes.

And, critics say, that is despite record spending on the military, whose annual budget now stands at more than $400 billion.

(compiled from agency reports)

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