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Bush replaces Rumsfeld to get 'fresh perspective'

Story Highlights

• Bush nominates former CIA chief Robert Gates to replace Rumsfeld
• Gates part of bipartisan panel making recommendations on war
• Rumsfeld agreed Iraq needs "fresh perspective," Bush said
• Exit polls suggest voters unhappy with handling of the Iraq war
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush introduced Robert Gates on Wednesday afternoon as his nominee to replace Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense, saying the country needs a "fresh perspective" on Iraq.

Gates, a former CIA chief, was a member of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel that is making recommendations to Bush on how to proceed in Iraq.

Gates traveled with the panel to Iraq earlier this year, an experience, Bush said, that will enable Gates to come up with "new ideas on how America can achieve our goals in Iraq."

Gates, 63, said Wednesday he accepted the nomination because "the United States is at war" and the president called.

"I believe the outcome of these conflicts will shape our world for decades to come," Gates said. (Watch what Gates might bring to the job -- 2:24 Video)

Bush announced Rumsfeld's departure earlier Wednesday.

"The timing is right for new leadership at the Pentagon," Bush said in announcing the resignation.

Bush said Rumsfeld "understands that Iraq is not working well enough, fast enough."

Rumsfeld has been heavily criticized for his policies in Iraq, and exit polls taken during Tuesday's midterm election, seen by some as a referendum on Bush and his administration, showed strong voter dissatisfaction -- 57 percent -- with the Iraq war.

"I recognize that many Americans voted last night to register their displeasure with the lack of progress being made" in Iraq, Bush said.

Gates headed the CIA from 1991 until 1993, part of 40 years of public service that Bush said prepares him well for the challenges he'll face at the Pentagon. (Gates' profile)

Bush heralded Gates' time as deputy director of central intelligence in the Reagan administration, when "he helped lead America's efforts to drive Soviet forces from Afghanistan."

Gates also served as deputy national security adviser to Bush's father during the Gulf War in 1991, something the younger Bush said Wednesday helped Gates understand what needs to be done in Iraq.

Gates is president of Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, a position he said Wednesday was the best job he's had, despite serving in six presidential administrations.

Rumsfeld, 74, has served as defense secretary since January 20, 2001, the beginning of Bush's first term, and is Bush's longest-serving Cabinet member.

He also served as defense secretary under President Ford from 1975 to 1977.

"Don Rumsfeld has been a superb leader during a time of change," Bush said Wednesday. "Yet he also appreciates the value of bringing in a fresh perspective during a critical period in this war." (Bush discusses Rumsfeld's resignation -- 1:27)

With the change, Bush pledged to stand by the people of Iraq.

"Do not be fearful," Bush said in reference to Iraqis. "As you take the difficult steps toward democracy and peace, America's going to stand with you. We know you want a better way of life, and now is the time to seize it."

Bush also expressed support for U.S. military personnel.

"Don't be doubtful. America will always support you," the president said. "Our nation is blessed to have men and women who volunteer to serve and are willing to risk their own lives for the safety of our fellow citizens."

Bush said he wants to bring the troops home from Iraq. "but I want them to come home with victory."

Pressure mounted on Rumsfeld

Rumsfeld has been under increasing pressure as U.S. casualties mount in Iraq. (Watch why Army Times declared 'Rumsfeld must go' -- 1:49)

October was the fourth-deadliest month for U.S. troops since the 2003 invasion, with 105 Americans killed.

As the war in Iraq dragged on, Rumsfeld became a lightning rod for critics of the war, with many accusing him of failing to send enough U.S. troops to Iraq or plan for the country's occupation and reconstruction.

The sometimes-prickly defense chief also has had his detractors in Congress, including many Democrats and some fellow Republicans.

"There were many of us who had expressed a lack of confidence" in Rumsfeld, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said Wednesday.

Earlier this year, eight retired generals, including former NATO commander Wesley Clark and the former head of the U.S. Central Command Anthony Zinni, called for Rumsfeld's resignation. They accused him of mishandling the Iraq war and failing to do post-planning.

Bush said while Rumsfeld's resignation had been in the works for a period of time, he held off any announcement until Wednesday because he "didn't want to inject a major decision about this war in the final days" of the election campaign.

Move gains Democrats' support

Democrats on Wednesday expressed support for new leadership at the Pentagon.

"I welcome this change. I think it will give a fresh start to finding a solution to Iraq rather than staying the course," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, who is poised to become House speaker after Democrats won control of that chamber on Tuesday.

"I look forward to working with the president to see if the new secretary of defense will help work to change course in Iraq. We have to do that," said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, the Senate minority leader.

"Yesterday's election was a cry for change, and for the first time it looks like the president is listening," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York.

President Bush has nominated former CIA chief Robert Gates to replace Rumsfeld.


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