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U.S. Troops out of Iraq?
Published on Thursday, November 9, 2006 by the Toronto Star
U.S. Troops out of Iraq?
Bush taps ex-CIA director for Pentagon job
by Tim Harper
 

Donald Rumsfeld, the embattled symbol of an Iraq war gone wrong, resigned as U.S. defence secretary yesterday, only hours after voters expressed their unhappiness with the war by inflicting heavy electoral losses on the Bush administration.

Many saw yesterday's surprise move as a sign that a chastened George W. Bush is searching anew for an honourable way to bring home U.S troops.

More likely, it was a bow to the new reality in Washington.

Bush must now try to work with a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate in his final two years in office.

The Democrats gained their 51st seat in the Senate yesterday with a victory in Virginia, giving the party complete domination of Capitol Hill for the first time since 1994.

Democrats have long called for Rumsfeld's head, but were joined lately by more and more Republicans.

The U.S. president turned to Robert Gates, a former CIA director, to lead the defence department, saying he'll offer a "fresh perspective" on the war.

But many here believe the ouster of Rumsfeld, the face of the discredited "stay the course strategy" and who personified a White House that never admitted mistakes, is the first step toward a phased withdrawal of the 150,000 Americans in Iraq.

They believe the next and most important step will be a report from former secretary of state James Baker and Democrat Lee Hamilton, most recently a co-chair of the Sept. 11 commission, which could provide the gravitas and flexibility Bush needs to extricate himself from a no-win proposition.

Gates had been a member of the Baker-Hamilton group, known as the Iraq Study Group, and is clearly quite familiar with the direction they'd like to see Bush take.

The Iraq war has cost the U.S. $300 billion, killed 2,839 American troops and wounded 21,572 more.

Bush, who said the "cumulative effect" of Tuesday's vote was "a thumpin" for his party, acknowledged Americans were telling him with their ballots to bring the troops home.

"I'd like our troops to come home too," he said, "but I want them to come home with victory. I mean, I can understand Americans saying, `Come home,' but I don't know if they said `Come home and leave behind an Iraq that could end up being a safe haven for Al Qaeda.'

"I don't believe they said that."

Likely no defence secretary in recent times has taken the pummelling the 74-year-old Rumsfeld absorbed.

He has been criticized by former U.S. military leaders for having no plan to fight an Iraqi insurgency, disbanding the Iraqi army, not sending enough troops to do the job properly, dismissing or punishing those who had alternate views, even for being unfeeling for those who died on the battlefield.

The calls for his departure reached a crescendo about six months ago, when former military brass spoke out.

"It goes back to watching firsthand the arrogant and contemptuous attitude of Rumsfeld as he ignored the advice of military experts during preparations for war, and then living with the impact of those strategic blunders as a division commander in Iraq," said Maj.-Gen. John Batiste, in one comment typical of that period.

Then, in an editorial published on election eve in Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Corps Times, all published by Gannet, there were new calls for his head.

"The time has come, Mr. President, to face the hard bruising truth," the editorial said.

"Donald Rumsfeld must go.''

By the time the editorial was published, Bush had already made his decision, the president said yesterday, even after he assured reporters last week that Rumsfeld and Vice-President Dick Cheney would remain with him until the end of his term.

Cheney is the last remaining architect of the Iraq war in the Bush inner circle.

Bush said he had to signal Rumsfeld would stay because he didn't want it to appear military decisions were being made for political reasons.

"It's been quite a time," Rumsfeld said as he stepped down, quoting Winston Churchill: "I have benefited greatly from criticism, and at no time have I suffered a lack thereof."

Many analysts said they believe Rumsfeld's departure cannot be just a cosmetic change.

"The Rumsfeld resignation signals a change in course that will result in a gradual drawdown of the U.S. presence in Iraq," said Loren Thompson, a defence analyst at the non-partisan Lexington Institute.

"Having said that, Rumsfeld has been trying to find some way to depart for some time. He wanted out simply because it had become so unpleasant to preside over such an unpopular war."

Bush made the announcement only minutes after Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat poised to become the first female House Speaker, called for Rumsfeld's departure.

"I welcome this change. It will give a fresh start to finding a solution to Iraq, rather than staying the course," she said.

Two potential presidential frontrunners also welcomed the change. Arizona Republican Senator John McCain said he wanted to discuss with Gates the need to beef up the military, and welcomed a fresh opportunity to examine all aspects of strategy in Iraq, while New York Senator Hillary Clinton, the perceived Democrat frontrunner, said the decision should have come sooner.

Rumsfeld, who will stay on until Gates is confirmed, will become the longest-serving secretary of defence in the country's history next month. "America is safer and the world more secure because of the service of Donald Rumsfeld," Bush said.

Rumsfeld, first elected to Congress 43 years ago, will also go down as a great contributor to U.S. political lore.

He served under Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan before Bush surprisingly plucked him from the private sector in 2001 for his second stint as defence secretary.

He had twice before offered his resignation, in the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

Early in the Iraq war, he dismissed any resistance to U.S. troops as the work of a bunch of "dead-enders," and once famously tried to counter charges that troops stood by as looters rampaged through Baghdad by explaining everyone was watching one guy with a stolen vase on an endless television loop.

He also had to defend himself when it was revealed the letters of condolence he sent to bereaved families were signed with an automatic pen.

In the run-up to the war, his "old Europe" backhand at allies who had questions about the Iraq invasion helped galvanize anti-Americanism worldwide, and his perceived arrogance may have been best expressed in his 2004 answer to a guardsman wondering why vehicles didn't have proper armour: "You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have."

Copyright Toronto Star Newspapers Limited.

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