It is an honor, and a humbling responsibility, to take the helm of this Department in a time of war and to lead men and women who have dedicated their lives to protecting our country.
In the coming weeks I will visit some of the key military posts and commands at home and abroad, as well as consult with this Department’s senior civilian and military leaders and staff. I look forward to meeting and hearing from the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are the true heart and strength of America’s armed forces. As the President has asked for my unvarnished advice, I expect the same of you.
Over the years of leading big institutions, I have learned something important: leaders come and go, but the professionals endure long after the appointees are gone. 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 that.
This Department is always engaged in a host of different activities that aid our nation’s defense. All are important, all are valuable. The most important issue we face is the situation in Iraq.
By removing the brutal and dangerous regime of Saddam Hussein, and by confronting the extremists and insurgents who have sought to derail any progress since, the United States and our Coalition partners have provided the Iraqi people a unique opportunity to have a decent future.
The violence in Iraq must be contained and reduced. Failure in that part of the world would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility, and endanger Americans for decades to come.
A successful outcome in Iraq, one that will help protect our nation and serve her long-term interests, will require all elements of America’s national power to work more effectively together, in cooperation with allies and partners in the region.
Afghanistan has made great strides since being liberated five years ago, but that progress is now at risk. The United States and our NATO allies have made a commitment to prevent the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan again. We intend to keep it.
How we face these and other challenges over the next two years will determine whether Iraq, Afghanistan, and other nations at a crossroads will pursue paths of gradual progress, or whether the forces of extremism and chaos will become ascendant.
As we address these challenges, it is important that we carry forward the process of what has been referred to as defense transformation. President Bush made it a priority at the beginning of his administration to help our military become more agile, more lethal, and more expeditionary. Much has been accomplished; much remains to be done. This task remains a necessity and a priority today.
It is also essential that we make every effort to ensure that tax dollars are spent wisely and carefully, and that we continue to maintain and enforce ethical standards of doing business. In a department as large as this one, neither task will be done perfectly, but it is important that we strive to do our best.
Our country is at war. I take this job with the knowledge that my decisions will have life-and-death consequences for America’s troops, as well as their families. I have accepted that responsibility, and will never forget it.
To all of the men and women of the U.S. military: you serve in the finest traditions of those who have worn this nation’s uniform these past 230 years. It is a high honor to serve with you as Secretary of Defense.
May God bless you and may God bless the wonderful country we have sworn an oath to protect.