He came to embody not only the deteriorating situation in Iraq but the squandered political fortunes of the Republican Party at home. So within hours of the GOP's ugly November defeat, blame came to rest at Donald Rumsfeld's (pictured) doorstep.
Controversy and acrimony eclipsed a remarkable career: Elected to Congress at age 30, the two-time defense secretary served three years of active duty in the Navy and 18 years in the reserves. He entered his first Cabinet position in 1969 and served five presidents. His time with the younger Bush-starting with 9/11 attacks that sent jolts and rumbles through his own office at the Pentagon-would prove roughest: By the time Rumsfeld resigned Nov. 8, the day after Republicans lost control of both the House and Senate, leaders in both parties had fingered the defense secretary for overpromising and underplanning on Iraq, for turning a cavalier face to worsening reports from Baghdad, and for failing to take to heart the advice of his own military brass.
Other transitions this year at the White House:
January: Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke succeeds retiring Alan Greenspan, who held the position for 18 years.
March: White House chief of staff Andrew Card resigns; succeeded by Josh Bolten. Interior Secretary Gale Norton resigns; replaced by former Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne.
May: R. David Paulison is approved as FEMA director, replacing embattled Michael Brown. Porter Goss, a former Congressman and CIA officer, steps down after a tumultuous 19 months as CIA director; quickly replaced by Gen. Michael V. Hayden.
June: Treasury Secretary John Snow is replaced by Henry Paulson Jr.
Kofi Annan, the first UN secretary-general to be elected from the ranks of UN staff, got his job by being a team player. He came into office 10 years ago pledged to preserve the "collective conscience of humanity" and leaves Dec. 31 beaten by a U.S. invasion of Iraq he opposed and a UN Oil for Food scandal in Iraq that eventually implicated his own son.
Incoming Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon got the job by being fired. Ban was forced out of the Korean ministry for accidently leaving in a sensitive statement about arms negotiations in a communiqué sent to Russia. Forced to perform a public apology called jeon-hwa-we-bok, or, turning a misfortune into a blessing, he was without portfolio until tapped by the UN Security Council; he begins Jan. 1.
U.S. ambassador to the UN John Bolton resigned Dec. 4 after key members of the president's own party, along with Senate Democrats, refused to support an upcoming confirmation bid needed for the controversial appointee to remain.
A massive stroke on Jan. 4 put legendary Israeli leader Ariel Sharon in a coma and Israeli politics on life support. The prime minister was removed formally from office after failing to regain consciousness and his successor, Ehud Olmert, was elected in March. By year's end Olmert himself was in need of political revival, with calls for his resignation from both the Israeli left and right over his handling of the war with Hezbollah and comments made in Germany indicating Israel has nuclear weapons. Under Sharon Israel held to a policy of "nuclear ambiguity." He often stated, "Israel won't be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East."
Cuba's Fidel Castro may be down but Castro-ism lives on. The 80-year-old dictator fell ill following intestinal surgery in July and has not been seen in public since. With power turned over to his brother Raul, Cubans and U.S. diplomats expect little movement from his hardline policies. "We don't see any significant possibility of change of any kind until Fidel is gone," said Tom Shannon, the State Department's top diplomat for Latin America.