A pat on the back, but no new tack on Iraq
The departure from the Pentagon of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld heralds a period of uncertainty about future American policy in the Iraq war. The combative Mr Rumsfeld has been in a sense America's chief warrior, leading from the front without a trace of uncertainty. He carried the fight to the bitter end on Friday, with an admiring President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney at his side as he bade farewell to the Pentagon. He maintained there was no easy way out of Iraq for the United States; even the perception of weakness was provocative.
Having accepted Mr Rumsfeld's resignation to make way for a 'fresh perspective', the president has postponed until next month an announcement on future strategy. There are conflicting signals. Mr Bush has nominated as Mr Rumsfeld's successor former CIA director Robert Gates, a member of the influential bipartisan Iraq Study Group which last week handed 79 policy proposals to the president. Mr Gates has told Congress America is not winning the war, as often claimed by Mr Bush. The study group recommended negotiating with neighbouring Iran and Syria for their help in ending bloodshed in Iraq between opposing religious factions.
But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has rejected such talks while Syria continues destabilising the moderate government of its neighbour Lebanon.
Reports from Washington say Mr Bush has asked military and budget advisers about options for increasing US military forces in Iraq by 20,000 or more.
So far, it seems, Mr Rumsfeld's departure has done nothing to clarify the way forward in Iraq. Indeed, Mr Bush applauded him for the lightning assault that drove Saddam Hussein from power and the military's efforts to guide the Iraqi people towards establishing a stable government. Mr Cheney described him as the finest secretary of defence the US has ever had. History will take a lot longer to judge Mr Rumsfeld. He served longer than any other defence secretary except Robert McNamara, who will be remembered for a war that America lost in Vietnam. It remains to be seen if Mr Rumsfeld is remembered as the Pentagon chief who lost another one.
Mr Bush is known for his fierce loyalty to friends and senior figures in his administration. With hindsight, historians may come to see such an admirable trait as a flaw, for example when he twice refused to accept Mr Rumsfeld's offer to resign over the abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq.
Showing a softer side of his personality the public rarely glimpsed, Mr Rumsfeld has described the day he found out about the brutal and humiliating treatment as the worst of his nearly six years in office.
However he is judged, Pentagon staff will remember him for his 'snowflakes' - the memos with which he bombarded them. The nickname 'Captain Memo' would have sounded a little too irreverent for a Pentagon warrior.