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Washington shake-up, Part 2: Rumsfeld departs

Bush announced his intent to replace the controversial Defense secretary with Robert Gates, a former CIA director.

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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.

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