In a low-key Pentagon ceremony, typical of the man himself, Robert Gates was sworn in Monday.
President Bush — desperately searching for a new strategy in Iraq — praised Gates as someone who brings a fresh perspective to the job.
"Bob Gates is the right man to take on these challenges," Bush said.
Gates himself warned of the dire consequences at stake.
"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," he said.
No sooner had Gates taken the oath, than the Pentagon released its most devastating report yet on violence in Iraq. The quarterly report says attacks over the past three months were the highest on record — 93 per day, more than double from a year ago. American casualties, dead and wounded, rose from 19 to 25 per day, up 32 percent in the last three months.
For the first time, Shiite militants were blamed for more murders and executions than Sunni insurgents and al-Qaida. The report also said Iraqi police were complicit in the slaughter, allowing Shiite death squads to move freely and warning them of upcoming U.S. military operations.
So how does Gates turn that around?
The White House is considering a short-term surge in the number of American forces in Iraq — up to 35,000 — to try to quell the violence. It's a tack rejected by former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
"I am not persuaded that another surge of troops into Baghdad for the purposes of suppressing this communitarian violence, this civil war, will work," Powell said.
Instead, top U.S. Generals like John Abizaid and George Casey think Iraqi forces should be beefed up to take over the fight. "We gotta put our energy, our resources behind a political solution and try to stand up the Iraqi security forces with the right equipment," says retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey. "And we gotta get outta there."