Shift in Middle East Requires U.S. Engagement

WASHINGTON, March 1, 2011 — The Unit­ed States must remain engaged in the broad­er Mid­dle East, where recent events have altered the strate­gic land­scape, a senior mil­i­tary com­man­der told the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee today.
Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mat­tis, com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand, tes­ti­fied before the com­mit­tee today on con­di­tions with­in Centcom’s area of respon­si­bil­i­ty, which encom­pass­es not only Afghanistan and Pak­istan but 18 oth­er nations includ­ing Bahrain, Egypt, Iran and Yemen.

Pop­u­lar upris­ings in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and else­where, Mat­tis said, demon­strate “the aspi­ra­tions of peo­ple seek­ing improved eco­nom­ic and social conditions.” 

“While the long-term impact of this unrest is unknown, it presents as many oppor­tu­ni­ties as it does chal­lenges,” the gen­er­al said. “The changes that we are see­ing will man­i­fest dif­fer­ent­ly in each coun­try. Peo­ple are seek­ing their rights, and for the most part doing so peace­ful­ly and bravely.” 

Sus­tained mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary engage­ment is essen­tial to the Unit­ed States build­ing com­mon cause with its friends in the region, Mat­tis said. 

“It is impor­tant that we work today with the peo­ple and the gov­ern­ments through­out the region,” he said. “We don’t want to see this change slide into a new form of authoritarianism.” 

While each nation marked by recent civ­il unrest is dif­fer­ent, the Cent­com com­man­der said, “We remain com­mit­ted to strength­en­ing our mil­i­tary bonds and advanc­ing our mutu­al inter­ests in peace and oppor­tu­ni­ty for all.” 

Egypt has proven the ben­e­fit of mature mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ships, he said. 

“The Egypt­ian armed forces con­tin­ue to demon­strate excep­tion­al dis­ci­pline and restraint under try­ing cir­cum­stances,” Mat­tis said. “As [Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] recent­ly not­ed, our assis­tance has helped the Egypt­ian mil­i­tary become the pro­fes­sion­al force that it is today, just as our mil­i­tary has learned a great deal from our Egypt­ian coun­ter­parts, who have con­tributed a sta­bi­liz­ing influ­ence in this time of transition.” 

The Unit­ed States can­not achieve its broad­er objec­tives in the Mid­dle East through mil­i­tary means alone, Mat­tis told com­mit­tee members. 

“Our efforts require coor­di­na­tion and a spir­it of col­lab­o­ra­tion between high­ly inte­grat­ed civil­ian-mil­i­tary teams,” he said. “Our civil­ian col­leagues need your full sup­port, even in this dif­fi­cult fis­cal envi­ron­ment, to under­take their essen­tial role in today’s com­plex environment.” 

The gen­er­al said robust resourc­ing for the State Depart­ment is an invest­ment in reduc­ing the need for mil­i­tary forces. 

“Togeth­er, our mil­i­tary lead­ers and our diplo­mats not only rep­re­sent a sym­bol of America’s endur­ing com­mit­ment to the region, but they also build trust through part­ner­ships that have an impor­tant sta­bi­liz­ing effect when trou­ble looms,” Mat­tis said. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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