Thank you. Mr. President, I am deeply honored by the trust you have placed in me. You have asked for my candor and my honest counsel at this critical moment in our nation's history, and you will get both.
Mr. Vice President, thank you for administering the oath of office. I first worked closely with the Vice President when he was a very successful Secretary of Defense, and I hope some of that may rub off.
My sincere thanks to the members of the United States Congress who are here today. I appreciate the prompt and fair hearing that I received in the Senate and the confidence that senators have placed in me.
Chairman Pace, thank you. I look forward to working with you and the Joint staff.
To the service chiefs and the service staffs, to all the uniform military here today, I value your professionalism and your experience, and I will rely on your clear-eyed advice in the weeks and months ahead.
Finally, I want to thank Becky, my wife of 40 years; and my children, Eleanor and Brad, for their infinite patience. I want to thank other family and friends who are here, but single out one especially -- my 93-year-old mother. She told me that if she could make it from Kansas to Texas A&M football games every fall, she certainly could be in Washington for this ceremony. (Laughter and applause.)
I, too, want to say a few words about my predecessor. Donald Rumsfeld has devoted decades of his life to public service. He cares deeply about our men and women in uniform, and the future of our country. I thank him for his long and distinguished service, and wish him and Joyce and their family all the best.
It is an honor to have the opportunity to work with the people in this Department, dedicated professionals whose overriding priority is the defense of our nation. Long ago, I learned something about leading large institutions: 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 just that.
This Department, as always, is carrying on many different activities all at the same time. 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 have 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 towards 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. (Applause.)