WASHINGTON - After years of defending his secretary of defense, President Bush on Wednesday announced Donald H. Rumfeld's resignation within hours of the Democrats' triumph in congressional elections.
Bush reached back to his father's administration to tap a former CIA director to run the Pentagon.
The Iraq war was the central issue of Rumsfeld's nearly six-year tenure, and unhappiness with the war was a major element of voter dissatisfaction Tuesday - and the main impetus for his departure. Even some GOP lawmakers in Congress became critical of the war's management, and growing numbers of politicians were urging Bush to replace Rumsfeld.
Bush said Robert M. Gates, 63, a national security veteran, family friend and currently president of Texas A&M University, would be nominated to replace Rumsfeld.
"Secretary Rumsfeld and I agreed that sometimes it's necessary to have a fresh perspective," Bush said in the abrupt announcement during a postelection news conference.
Asked whether Rumsfeld's departure signaled a new direction in a war that has claimed the lives of more than 2,800 U.S. troops and cost more than $300 billion, Bush said, "Well, there's certainly going to be new leadership at the Pentagon."
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Rumsfeld was not leaving immediately. Rumsfeld planned to deliver a speech on the global war on terrorism at Kansas State University on Thursday.
Just last week Bush told reporters that he expected Rumsfeld, 74, to remain until the end of the administration's term. And although Bush said Wednesday that his decision to replace Rumsfeld was not based on politics, the announcement of a Pentagon shake-up came on the heels of Tuesday's voting, in which Democrats captured control of the House and could win control of the Senate if the remaining undecided race in Virginia goes their way.
With his often-combative defense of the war in Iraq, Rumsfeld had been the administration's face of the conflict. He became more of a target - and more politically vulnerable - as the war grew increasingly unpopular at home amid rising violence and with no end in sight.
Gates ran the CIA under the first President Bush during the first Gulf war. He retired from government in 1993.
He joined the CIA in 1966 and is the only agency employee to rise from an entry level job to become director. A native of Kansas, he made a name for himself as an analyst specializing in the former Soviet Union and he served in the intelligence community for more than a quarter century, under six presidents.
Numerous Democrats in Congress had been calling for Rumsfeld's resignation for many months, asserting that his management of the war and of the military had been a resounding failure. Critics also accused Rumsfeld of not fully considering the advice of his generals and of refusing to consider alternative courses of action.
Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan and Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri - the top Democrats on the Armed Services committees - said the resignation would only be a positive step if accompanied by a change in policy.
"I think it is critical that this change be more than just a different face on the old policy," Skelton said.
Rumsfeld, 74, has served in the job longer than anyone except Robert McNamara, who became secretary of defense during the Kennedy administration and remained until 1968. Rumsfeld is the only person to have served in the job twice; his previous tour was during the Ford administration.
Rumsfeld had twice previously offered his resignation to Bush - once during the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in spring 2004 and again shortly after that. Both times the president refused to let him leave.
Gates took over the CIA as acting director in 1987, when William Casey was terminally ill with cancer. Questions were raised about Gates' knowledge of the Iran-Contra scandal, so he withdrew from consideration to take over the CIA permanently. Yet he stayed on as deputy director.
Then-National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who has been a critic of the younger Bush's policies, asked Gates to be his deputy in 1989 during the administration of Bush's father. President Bush, a former CIA director himself, asked him to run the CIA two years later. The scandal had faded and Gates won confirmation.
After leaving government service, Gates joined corporate boards and wrote a memoir, "From The Shadows: The Ultimate Insider's Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War." It was published in 1996.
Gates is a close friend of the Bush family, and particularly the first President Bush. He became the president of Texas A&M University in August 2002. The university is home to the presidential library of Bush's father.
Bush has considered Gates for jobs before, including in 2005 when he was searching for a candidate to be the nation's first national intelligence director. Gates declined to take the position, disappointing some Republicans who hoped the veteran of Washington would bring his expertise to this Bush administration.