By Simon Hooper for CNN
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(CNN) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has been forced out of the Pentagon after almost six years in charge. Here's all you need to know about his departure.
Why has Rumsfeld gone now?
Rumsfeld had come under pressure to quit on several occasions during almost six years of service as Defense Secretary, and indeed had offered his resignation on a number of occasions. But following sweeping Democrat gains in Tuesday's midterm elections and amid widespread criticism of the conduct of the war in Iraq his position had become untenable. He enjoys the distinction of having been both the youngest -- he did the same job under Gerald Ford from 1975 to 1977 -- and the oldest head of the Pentagon.
What went wrong?
Rumsfeld was seen as one of the most hawkish members of the Bush administration and one of the key architects behind the war against Iraq. In consequence, he has been roundly blamed for the country's post-invasion collapse into sectarian violence. Failure in Iraq has also called into question Rumsfeld's vision of the U.S. military as a lighter, more technologically sophisticated fighting machine. The implementation of that strategy in Iraq was criticized by some analysts and military leaders for failing to leave enough troops on the ground to police the peace that followed the initially successful invasion.
Why was Rumsfeld such a divisive figure?
To his critics, Rumsfeld was a cool, Machiavellian operator -- Henry Kissinger once described him as the most ruthless man he knew. Among opponents of the Bush administration, Rumsfeld was an unpopular figure due to his close ideological links to the coterie of neo-conservative advisers promoted to power following Bush's election in 2000. In 2004 he came under pressure over revelations of prisoner abuse by U.S. military personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Rumsfeld's Pentagon press briefings have been a regular feature of the Bush years, but he did not always do himself any favours with his candid outspokenness. In 2004 he admitted using a machine to replicate his signature on condolence letters to the families of dead soldiers and also cast doubt on the existence of a link between Saddam Hussein's regime and al Qaeda -- one of the key justifications for the conflict. But his weakness for sometimes baffling off-the-cuff remarks will probably be missed by Pentagon hacks.
Remember this one from 2002? "There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know."
Or this from 2003: "I think what you'll find is, whatever it is we do substantively, there will be near-perfect clarity as to what it is. And it will be known to the Congress, and it will be known to you, probably before we decide it, but it will be known."
What does Rumsfeld's removal mean for the war in Iraq?
The end of the Rumsfeld era paves the way for a change of direction in Iraq, something that Democrats are calling for and even President Bush has conceded is necessary in recent days. Rumsfeld's replacement Robert Gates, a former CIA boss, is a member of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group which is due to report on alternative U.S. strategies for Iraq before the end of the year. Those recommendations are likely to focus on reducing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.
What do others make of Rumsfeld's departure?
George W. Bush says: "History will record that on Don Rumsfeld's watch the men and women of our military overthrew two terrorist regimes, liberated some 50 million people, brought justice to the terrorist [Musab al-] Zarqawi and scores of senior al Qaeda operatives and helped stop new terrorist attacks on our people.
"Don Rumsfeld has been a superb leader during a time of change. Yet he also appreciates the value of bringing in a fresh perspective during a critical period in this war."
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, set to become the new speaker of the House, says: "I hope the departure of Mr. Rumsfeld will mark a fresh start toward a new policy in Iraq, signaling a willingness on the part of the president to work with the Congress to devise a better way forward."
Donald Rumsfeld is quitting as secretary of defense after almost six years in the post.
THE BRIEFING ROOM