The US is ready to defend its interests in the Middle East for decades to come, even though the Iraq war has been tougher than expected, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday. Gates made the comments at a ceremony where Navy Adm. William Fallon was formally installed as the new head of US Central Command, putting him in charge of American forces in the Middle East and Central Asia. Gates said the United States would continue to stand by its allies in the region. The US is "dedicated to strengthening those commitments and defending our interests for the decades to come. And we will do all in our power to protect and defend our homeland," he said.