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SecDef Substitution: Rummy out, Gates in

Filed under: — Gunner @ 12:23 am

One of the chief lightning rods for criticism in the Bush administration has been taken down as President Bush announced the departure of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The winds of change swept from the ballot box into the Pentagon on Wednesday and Americans greeted the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with delight, sadness – and a sense it was long overdue.


Rumsfeld resigned hours after Democrats seized control of the House and came close to capturing the Senate as well, riding a powerful wave of voter discontent over nearly four years of a war in Iraq with no end in sight.

As an architect of the war, Rumsfeld had become a target of congressional Democrats and more recently some Republicans, with increasing calls for his resignation.

President Bush announced the departure at a news conference and said there would have been a change at the Pentagon regardless of the election results. He also acknowledged that GOP losses reflected voters’ “displeasure with the lack of progress” in Iraq. Surveys at polling places showed about six in 10 voters disapproved of the war.

I, for one, greatly admire the man and generally approve of the reformation he was trying to bring to the American military. It is safe to say, however, that he had made enemies with many of the entrenched brass, especially after his decision to axe the Crusader program, and that he had been demonized by political opponents and many in the media over Iraq to the point of ineffectiveness.

Perhaps summing the matter up best was Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) when he said the following:

While Secretary Rumsfeld and I have had our differences, he deserves Americans’ respect and gratitude for his many years of public service.

Bush has named former CIA director and current president of Texas A&M University Robert Gates as Rummy’s replacement.

Appearing with President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld Wednesday, shortly after his appointment had been announced, Robert Gates said this was not a job he had sought.

“I had not anticipated returning to government service and have never enjoyed any position more than being president of Texas A&M University,” he said. “However, the United States is at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are fighting against terrorism worldwide and we face other serious challenges to peace and our security.”

Robert Gates served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1991 to 1993 after serving more than 20 years in the spy agency in various positions in which he worked with six presidents. He has served as president of Texas A&M University, the nation’s seventh largest university, for the past four years. The university is only a two-hour drive from President Bush’s ranch near Crawford, Texas, where they met over the weekend, according to the president.

“I had a good talk with him Sunday, in Crawford,” he said. “I found him to be of like mind. He understands we are in a global war against these terrorists. He understands that defeat is not an option in Iraq.”

Gates is one of the key figures from the first Bush administration, and he recently served on the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel established by Congress earlier this year and headed by former Secretary of State James Baker.

Some analysts believe Robert Gates will represent the views of some of the former president Bush’s advisers, many of whom have been critical of current U.S. policy in Iraq. There is also the possibility that he will work to implement some of the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group.

Georgetown University professor Paul Pillar, a former senior career intelligence officer, says Gates is also a shrewd political player with a knack for handling bureaucracies.

“I think it is a mistake to think of Mr. Gates primarily in terms of his intelligence background, although he did come initially out of the intelligence community and out of CIA, he did not rise through the ranks, but was kind of catapulted over most of the ranks and made his mark more as a high-level bureaucratic operator, not just in the intelligence community, but also as deputy national security adviser in the first Bush administration,” he said.

Pillar says Gates will likely initiate many changes in the Defense Department in addition to providing a fresh approach to the war in Iraq.

Standing in Gates’ way is confirmation by the senate.

Gates will not assume office until he has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate. That, says the current chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John Warner of Virginia, could happen “in the coming weeks.”

Democrats, who made large gains in Tuesday’s midterm election, are not likely to hold up his approval, since leading Democrats have been calling for Secretary Rumsfeld to be replaced for some time and, as President Bush made clear in his introduction of Robert Gates Wednesday, Donald Rumsfeld will remain in place as secretary of defense until the Senate approves Gates for the job.

It will be interesting to see just how obstructionist the senate Democrats, with their majority control just around the corner in January, decide to play with this nomination.

In a special farewell note to Texas A&M, my alma mater, Dr. Gates said conveyed the following:

To the Aggie Family,

By the time you read this, the President of the United States will have announced that he will nominate me to be the next Secretary of Defense. I am deeply honored, but also deeply saddened.

As most of you know, almost two years ago I declined an opportunity to become the first Director of National Intelligence. I did so principally because of my love for Texas A&M and because much of the program we had initiated to take A&M to a new level of excellence had only just started.

Today, two years later, all of the initiatives of greatest importance are well underway and on an assured path to completion. The faculty reinvestment program is on track and all 447 new positions should be funded by next September. Work is underway or in planning for more than $500 million in construction, some 90% of it on new academic facilities. We have made significant progress in increasing the diversity of our faculty and student body, and both the programs and funding are in place to continue that important and on-going effort. And many new initiatives are now underway or are already complete to enhance both graduate and undergraduate education, including, above all, the new University Studies degree program. The Corps is on the right track in terms of growth and grades, and the Capital Campaign will end next month having far exceeded our billion dollar goal.

Some of you may worry whether one or another of these efforts will continue with my departure. You need to know that the progress we have made has been a team endeavor, and the team will remain. A remarkable faculty and a group of gifted administrators and staff who truly deserve the credit for all that has been accomplished over the past four-plus years will still be here — above all, my strong right arm for nearly four and a half years, the Executive Vice President and Provost, Dr. David Prior.

I apologize for surprising you with this momentous decision and announcement, and for leaving as president before fulfilling my commitment to serve Texas A&M for at least five years. I hope you will understand the circumstances that made this necessary and that this appointment comes nearly as much a surprise to me as to you.

I will have more to say to you before I leave (if I am confirmed by the Senate). But I must tell you that while I chose Texas A&M over returning to government almost two years ago, much has happened both here and around the world since then. I love Texas A&M deeply, but I love our country more and, like the many Aggies in uniform, I am obligated to do my duty. And so I must go. I hope you have some idea of how painful that is for me and how much I will miss you and this unique American institution.

At this point, I expect to remain as President of Texas A&M until completion of the confirmation process and a Senate vote. I assure you, you will hear more from me before my departure.

Robert M. Gates, President Texas A&M University

Thank you, sir, for your service to my school and to Aggies everywhere. Thank you even more so for your service to my country.

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