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Gates' Remarks at Swearing-In Ceremony

The key to successful leadership, in my view, is to involve in the decision-making process early and often those who ultimately must carry out the decisions. I will do my best to do just that.

This department as always, is carrying on many different activities all at the same tile. All are valuable, all are important.

However, as I said in my confirmation hearings, Iraq is at the top of the list. In the days since the Senate confirmed me, I have participated in most of the National Security Council meetings on Iraq, I have received a number of briefings here at the Department of Defense, and I discussed the situation and way forward in Iraq in depth with the president.

I intend to travel quite soon to Iraq and meet with our military leaders and other personnel there. I look forward to hearing their honest assessments of the situation on the ground and to having the benefit of their advice, unvarnished and straight from the shoulder, on how to proceed in the weeks and months ahead.

Another pressing concern is Afghanistan. The progress made by the Afghan people over the past five years is at risk. The United States and its NATO allies have made a commitment to the Afghan people and we intend to keep it.

Afghanistan cannot be allowed to become a sanctuary for extremists again.

How we face these and other challenges in the region over the next two years will determine whether Iraq, Afghanistan and other nations at a crossroads will pursue paths of gradual progress toward sustainable governments which are allies in the global war on terrorism, or whether the forces of extremism and chaos will become ascendant.

All of us want to find a way to bring America's sons and daughters home again. But, as the president has made clear, we simply cannot afford to fail in the Middle East.

Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility and endanger Americans for decades to come.

Finally, there is the matter of what is referred to as defense transformation. As I mentioned in my Senate testimony, I was impressed by how deployable our military has become since I last served in government.

Before he came to office, the president said that one of his top priorities was to help our military become more agile, more lethal, and more expeditionary. Much has been accomplished in this. Much remains to be done. This remains a necessity and a priority.

I return to public service in the hope that I can make a difference at a time when our nation is facing daunting challenges and difficult choices.

Mr. President, I thank you again for the opportunity to do that.

And thank all of you for being here.


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© 2006 The Associated Press