By changing the leadership of the Department of Defense, President Bush has not necessarily changed his policies in Iraq. But he may have changed the tone of Washington's debate about Iraq, at least for now.
It's not yet clear whether Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld chose to leave on his own, or whether he was pushed. It's quite possible that it was a mutual decision, as Mr. Bush implied in his press conference Wednesday afternoon.
But Secretary Rumsfeld, a pugnacious former wrestler and fighter pilot, has long been a symbol of intransigence to the administration's critics. Now, newly empowered Democrats won't have him to kick around during any oversight hearings into the preparation for, and conduct of, the Iraq conflict.
"Don Rumsfeld has been a superb leader during a time of change," said Bush in announcing the change. "Yet he also appreciates the value of bringing in a fresh perspective during a critical period in this war."
From the outset, Rumsfeld was a controversial choice to lead the Pentagon. His abrasive style did not sit well with many in the military, including some of the nation's top uniformed generals and admirals. Bob Woodward's new book, "State of Denial," contains a scene in which Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, when asked how to decode his new boss, simply lays his head down on his desk in frustration.
Rumsfeld was not a secretary the military could easily distract by dispatching him to foreign bases on goodwill tours. His "snowflakes" – short action memos or questions about a particular subject – drifted through Pentagon offices by the dozens, causing many to work late as they drafted replies.
Critics said that Rumsfeld's views on the need for the military to transform itself into a light, lightning-strike force led to the US becoming embroiled in Iraq with too few troops. Rumsfeld himself disputed this notion, saying that he listened to his generals when it came to troop levels, and that if they had asked him for more, he would have provided them.
Initial reaction from Democrats on Rumsfeld's departure was positive, with Senate minority leader Harry Reid of Nevada, among others, saying that Bush had "taken a step in the right direction."
Senator Reid went on to call for a rethinking of the administration's overall approach to Iraq, however. There is no indication yet whether that is in the works.
Given the timing of Rumsfeld's departure, it is difficult to see it as anything less than a concession on Bush's part to the results of Tuesday's Democratic victories. "The American people have spoken," says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "President Bush has listened, and Mr. Rumsfeld is gone."
Robert Gates, the man Bush intends to nominate as Rumsfeld's replacement, is perhaps a more restrained personality. Currently president of Texas A&M University, he was a longtime Washington intelligence and security-affairs official.
Mr. Gates directed the Central Intelligence Agency from 1991 to 1993, having risen through its ranks from an entry-level position. He had joined the agency during the Vietnam War, straight from Indiana University.
He is not a Rumsfeld-level thrower of bombs. He served at the CIA under Stansfield Turner, for instance, whom he later criticized for not cultivating enough of a constituency for the changes at the agency that Mr. Turner wanted to make.
He has been serving as a member of the commission on Iraq policy that includes former Secretary of State James Baker III, among others. That commission is expected to report its findings and possible recommendations for changes in policy to the president in coming weeks.
Former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (1991-93) and president of Texas A&M University since 2002.
•CIA intelligence analyst (1966-74)
•National Security Council staff (1974-79)
•Returned to CIA in 1979, holding various positions, including deputy director of central intelligence (1986–89)
•Acting director of the CIA (1986-87). Withdrew his first nomination as director after senators questioned his insistence that he was kept in the dark about the Iran-Contra affair despite his high position in the intelligence community.
•Assistant to the president and deputy for national security affairs (1989)
•Deputy assistant to the president for national security affairs (1989–91)
•Became CIA's youngest director (1991) and only career officer to rise to the post from entry-level employee. During nomination, a record number of senators – 31 – voted against him. On eve of first Iraq war, met with Saudi King Fahd and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to discuss removing Saddam Hussein from power.
•Interim dean, George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M (1999-2001)
•Chairman of the independent trustees of the Fidelity Funds
•Member of executive committee of the American Council on Education, national executive board of the Boy Scouts of America, and board of directors of NACCO Industries, Brinker International, and Parker Drilling Company
•Awarded the National Security Medal, Presidential Citizens Medal, National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal (twice), and the CIA's highest award, Distinguished Intelligence Medal (three times).
•Born 1943 in Wichita, Kan. Married with two adult children.
•BA in history, College of William and Mary
•MA in history, Indiana University
•PhD in Russian and Soviet history, Georgetown University
Sources: CIA, Texas A&M University, and Current Biography Yearbook 1992