Victorious Congressional Democrats are calling for change in the Bush administration's Iraq policy -- as President Bush announced the resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Distress over the Iraq war motivated many voters to cast their ballots for Democrats.
The war in Iraq was the main issue on the minds of most voters Tuesday. Exit polls show about six out of ten voters disapprove of the war -- and this influenced their vote. Many cast their ballots for Democrats promising to change Iraq policy.
Among these voters was Virginia resident Thelma Smith, who believes the war has hurt the U.S. image abroad. "I travel widely around the world. We've lost face with so many countries around the world. Everyone used to be our friend and now it seems like, they're not."
And change is what victorious Democrats are promising, especially on Iraq. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who is likely to become House Speaker, made this clear Wednesday. "Nowhere was the call for a new direction more clear from the American people than in the war in Iraq. This is something that we must work together with the president, we know that 'stay the course' is not working, has not made our country safer, it has not honored our commitment to our troops and it has not brought stability to the region. We must not continue on this catastrophic path."
As a first step, Pelosi called for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign -- a decision President Bush announced later in the day.
"Now, after a series of thoughtful conversations, Secretary Rumsfeld and I agreed that the timing is right for new leadership at the Pentagon. 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," said the president.
Mr. Bush also said he will work with Democrats on the Iraq issue but put limits on what he will accept. "It's very important that the people understand the consequences of failure, and I have vowed to the country that we're not going to fail, we're not going to leave before the job is done and obviously we've got a lot to do with some members of Congress."
But even with Democrats controlling both Houses of Congress, it is unclear what impact they will have on Iraq. Political scientist Dennis Johnson believes presidents still set the foreign policy agenda. "Congress, frankly, likes to tinker with problems, they don't like to solve problems, particularly when it comes to foreign affairs. Given a bloodied, beaten up president and a new Congress, I'd still go with the president in foreign policy."
A bipartisan commission on Iraq, led by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton, may provide a plan for both the administration and the Congress to follow. They are expected to release their report in coming weeks.
Meanwhile, in Baghdad, Iraqis read the news about the Democratic gains in Congress; with some expressing hope those elected will work to provide security for Iraq.