The first head to roll after the Democrats sweep belongs to none other than the man largely seen as the architect of the Iraq War — Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Standing next to President Bush in a brief White House appearance, Rumsfeld, 74, announced his resignation but offered no apologies. The war, he said, “is not well known. It was not well understood. It is complex for people to comprehend.”

The president asked Robert M. Gates, who served as director of central intelligence under Mr. Bush’s father, to take over at the Pentagon at a moment when the administration is under intense pressure to develop a new approach in Iraq.

The press conference: RUMSFELD:These past years, six years, it’s been quite a time. It recalls to mind the statement by Winston Churchill, something to the effect that: I have benefited greatly from criticism, and at no time have I suffered a lack thereof. The great respect that I have for your leadership, Mr. President, in this little-understood, unfamiliar war, the first war of the 21st century — it is not well-known, it was not well-understood; it is complex for people to comprehend. — The Washington Post 

George W. Bush escorts out-going Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from the Oval Office after announcing his replacement, former CIA director Robert Gates overnight. Picture: AAP Image/AFP

What does it mean for the war?: The departure of Donald Rumsfeld is a major moment in the history of the Bush administration and the war in Iraq. His resignation is a sign and an admission that the policy in Iraq has not worked, so far. Apart from Vice-President Dick Cheney and President Bush himself, there was nobody who symbolised the administration’s determination to wage the war on terror and to get rid of Saddam Hussein. — Paul Reynolds BBC News 

The master knife-fighter: No one  understands the brutality of Washington politics better than Donald Rumsfeld. He has practised a bit of it himself over almost four decades at the top. As a senior member of Richard Nixon’s Administration, then as the Chief of Staff and Defence Secretary for Gerald Ford, he gained a reputation as one of the most gifted of bureaucratic knife-fighters. — Gerard Baker, The Times UK

The timing: What does it mean that Rumsfeld has resigned the day after the election? It may mean that the president really thought Republicans would hold onto the House and was shocked by the magnitude of the Republican losses last night into finally seeing how large a political liability Rumsfeld was.
“Actually, I thought I was going to be fine in this election. Shows you what I know,” Bush just said in the press conference happening now. — Chicago Tribune blog

Who’s next? My experience has always been that when you give the left a scalp, they just want more. So who will be their next target? Condoleezza Rice? Cheney? — Rush Limbaugh

Gates’ challenge: Robert M. Gates would take control of a military whose ground forces are stretched and strained by a costly and bloody war and whose officers yearn to give unvarnished military advice without fear of reprisal. — The New York Times

Rum-speak: Mr Rumsfeld, one of the longest-serving defence secretaries, is known for his rhetoric. Here are a selection of quotes from his six years under George W Bush. — BBC News 

Bush’s first big concession: Bush showed that he could turn on a dime if necessary: Bush ousted Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld only a week after telling reporters he would stay through the end of the administration. And he voiced great willingness to work with Democrats on Capitol Hill, following an election campaign in which he regularly impugned the opposition for policies he said could weaken America and lead to the victory of terrorists. — The Washington Post

Sticking up for Rummy: Donald Rumsfeld has many critics and many political opponents. He also has a legion of admirers, and I am among them. Rumsfeld’s experience, keen intellect, relentless energy and charisma made him almost a perfect SecDef for the start of a war, but as the public lost the sense that it was a war, the grievances of Rumsfeld’s opponents accumulated as ddid the opportunities to air them. — Townhall blog

What does it mean for the Dems? Democratic leaders might wonder soon if getting rid of Rumsfeld so quickly was such a great idea. The boogeyman of Rumsfeld made it easy to be a critic. By casting him aside, Bush forces Democrats to make decisions on those more complicated issues while they’re still figuring out where to hold their caucus meetings. — Slate

Clean up the mess: After nearly six years of profuse presidential praise, Donald Rumsfeld is leaving a mess for the next secretary of defense. George W. Bush’s long support for Rumsfeld’s arbitrary leadership has been tragic and baffling. — Seattle Post Intelligencer Editorial

Pentagon surprised: Most of the people at the Pentagon found out the news this morning as they came in to work during various briefings and phone calls that took place in the course of the morning. — CNN 

Bush says thanks: Don Rumsfeld’s a patriot who’s served our country with honor and distinction. He is a trusted adviser and a friend, and I’m deeply grateful to his service to our country. — San Jose Mercury News 
 
Why now? The timing of this move seems ludicrous. Just two weeks ago, Bush riled up the electorate by pledging unwavering support for Rumsfeld for the next two years. I’m sure that a number of Republican politicians who find themselves out of a job wonder why this decision didn’t get made two months ago, and why Bush had to issue that unhelpful statement in the midst of the midterm struggles.
Captain’s Quarters 

Finally: Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation last night was a fitting climax to the voters’ verdict. Thank you, America. — The Guardian UK

Peter Fray

Save 50% on a year of Crikey and The Atlantic.

The US election is in a little over a month. It seems that there’s a ridiculous twist in the story, almost every day.

Luckily for new Crikey subscribers, we’ve teamed up with one of America’s best publications, The Atlantic for the election race. Subscribe now to make sense of it all, and you’ll get a year of Crikey (usually $199) and a year’s digital subscription to The Atlantic (usually $70AUD), BOTH for just $129.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW