Rumsfeld Resigns; Bush Names Former CIA Director as Replacement
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington - President Bush, responding to concerns expressed by American voters in November 7 midterm elections, has accepted the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and has nominated former CIA Director Robert M. Gates to replace him.
Rumsfeld has agreed to remain in charge of the Pentagon until the U.S. Senate confirms Gates, Bush said November 8.
In Baghdad, Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, assured Iraqi journalists and members of parliament that the election is not expected to have an immediate impact on U.S. foreign policy or military operations. “It is clear that Americans want Iraq to succeed,” the Afghan-born Khalilzad said.
Speaking to White House reporters, Bush said that Gates, a former career intelligence officer with 25 years of government service, is “one of our nation’s most accomplished public servants” and is suited ideally to lead the Pentagon in wartime.
“He’s a man of integrity, candor and sound judgment,” Bush said. “He knows that the challenge of protecting our country is larger than any political party.” Gates has served six presidents from both major U.S. political parties and “has a record of working with leaders on both sides of aisle,” Bush said, referring to those of the Republican and Democratic parties.
In the 1980s, Gates served as deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency under President Reagan and helped lead U.S. efforts to drive Soviet forces from Afghanistan, weakening the Soviet Union and helping bring an end to the Cold War, Bush said. From 1989 to 1991, he served as deputy national security adviser for the first President Bush during Operation Desert Storm, when American and coalition forces drove Iraqi invaders from Kuwait.
Gates served as CIA director from late 1991 until 1993. In 2002, he was named president of Texas A&M University, the sixth-largest university in the United States.
In brief remarks at the White House, Gates said he had not considered returning to public service until the president contacted him. “[T]he United States is at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are fighting against terrorism worldwide, and we face other serious challenges to our peace and security,” Gates said. “I believe the outcome of these conflicts will shape our world for decades to come.”
Bush also praised Rumsfeld’s “willingness to continue serving until his successor is in place, because in a time of war our nation cannot be without a strong and steady hand leading our Department of Defense.”
In December, Bush said, Rumsfeld will become the nation’s longest serving defense secretary. Rumsfeld also has been a major target for critics of the conduct of U.S.-led military operations in Iraq. In 2004, he twice offered to resign when it became known that the military was investigating cases of prisoner abuse by U.S. military guards at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. On both occasions, Bush declined Rumsfeld’s resignation offer.
Standing beside Bush and Gates at the White House on November 8, Rumsfeld paraphrased the late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, saying, “I have benefited greatly from criticism, and at no time have I suffered a lack thereof.”
LONG RECORD OF PUBLIC SERVICE
At age 74, Rumsfeld holds the distinction of having been both the nation’s oldest and youngest defense secretary. He first ran the Pentagon for 14 months in the mid-1970s under the administration of President Gerald Ford. He became defense secretary again on January 20, 2001.
During the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Rumsfeld, a former Navy pilot, ran to the attack site and helped with rescue efforts. He also carried through on a vow to repair the damaged building within one year of the attacks.
In two meetings with reporters at the White House November 8, Bush said he was aware that Americans voted against his Republican political party in part because of concerns about military operations in Iraq.
“I recognize that many Americans voted last night to register their displeasure with the lack of progress being made there [in Iraq],” Bush said.
However, he added a message to adversaries of U.S. policies. “To our enemies: Do not be joyful,” Bush said. “Do not confuse the workings of our democracies with a lack of will. Our nation is committed to bringing you to justice. Liberty and democracy are the source of America's strength, and liberty and democracy will lift up the hopes and desires of those you're trying to destroy.” (See related article.)
UNITED STATES REMAINS COMMITTED TO IRAQ
Earlier that day in Baghdad, Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador, told Iraqi journalists that the United States remains committed helping the elected Iraqi government build a secure country.
“It does look like there will be a change in the balance of power in Congress between our two leading parties,” Khalilzad said.
“Elections are central to the expression of the popular will in liberal democracies,” he said. “Elections can also be polarizing events - exaggerating the differences between leaders and between parties. However, at their best, leaders in democracies govern in ways that advance the higher national interest, not just partisan interests.”
The change in political parties in Congress might result in more public debate of U.S. policies. However, under the U.S. Constitution, the president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. At the same time, the U.S. Constitution empowers Congress to "raise and support armies” and to “provide and maintain a navy.” This means the U.S. armed forces effectively are owned by Congress on behalf of the American people, giving Congress broad oversight in their funding and conduct. American military personnel take their oath of loyalty to the U.S. Constitution, not to the president, but they also swear to follow the orders of the president as commander-in-chief.
A transcript of Khalilzad’s remarks to journalists is posted on the Web site of Multi-National Force –Iraq.