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McCain Offers Support to Middle East Protesters

10:47 AM, Mar 1, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
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In his opening statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning, Senator John McCain expressed his support for the protesters across the Middle East. “[T]he historic changes now reshaping the broader Middle East are a direct repudiation of al-Qaeda and its terrorist allies,” McCain said.

“The people of this dynamic and crucial region are rising up to change the character of their governments, but the revolutions they are making are largely defined not by violence, but by peaceful protests. They are inspired not by intolerant and extremist ideologies, but rather by demands for greater freedom, democracy, opportunity, and justice.”

McCain also said that the wave of protests across the Middle East has been more destabilizing than any thing like it since “the fall of the Soviet Union.” And this, the Arizona senator suggested, is a good thing – since the protesters, writ large, seek freedom and democracy. For this reason, the U.S. should support this effort: “More than any weapon of war with which this committee must concern itself, it is these principles, and the changes they are inspiring, that will ultimately defeat our terrorist enemies, and if only for that reason alone, these universal values and those now struggling for them deserve our full support.” 

Here’s the full text of McCain’s opening statement:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And let me thank our distinguished witnesses for joining us this morning. General Mattis, Admiral Olson: Thank you for your many decades of faithful service to our nation, and on behalf of our entire committee, please convey to the brave men and women you lead how grateful we are for their sacrifice, and that of their families.

This posture hearing could not come at a more important time. I have spent the past several days visiting some key countries within the CENTCOM area of responsibility, including Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt—as well as some equally critical countries that influence events within the AOR, such as Morocco, Tunisia, and Israel. In addition, we are all obviously focused on the tectonic changes that are shaking countries and governments in Yemen, Bahrain, Iran, and of course Libya. And that is to say nothing of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, which remain the focus of our military and diplomatic efforts.

Not since the fall of the Soviet Union have we seen a wave of change destabilize more critical countries all at once than what we are now witnessing. Indeed, the old bargains that have defined regional order in the Middle East for the past several decades are now collapsing in front of us. This is of course deeply unsettling, but it is also an unprecedented opportunity to support the peoples of the Middle East in shaping a new regional order that is, all at once, reflective of their aspirations, conducive to our interests, and consistent with our values. The people of the Middle East are playing the leading role in this historic endeavor, but America’s armed forces are playing an indispensable role—strengthening and defending our friends, while deterring and defeating our enemies.

2011 will be a consequential year for CENTCOM and SOCOM. Among the vital strategic issues that are in play this year, we face the beginning of NATO's transition of responsibility for security in Afghanistan to local and national Afghan forces, amid strained and even deteriorating U.S.-Pakistani relations.

We face hard choices about the future of U.S. defense assistance to Lebanon after Hezbollah's use of coercion to become the dominant actor in the government.

We face the Iranian regime’s desire to develop a nuclear weapons capability and to exploit the current regional instability to expand its hegemonic ambitions.

We face the destabilization of critical counter-terrorism partners like Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, and Bahrain, where the headquarters of U.S. Fifth Fleet is now caught up in the broader debate over the people of Bahrain’s political future.

And of course, we face the prospect of a complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of the year, despite increasing evidence and recent testimony by the Secretary of Defense suggesting that such a plan is not consistent with Iraq's continuing security needs or our enduring interests at this time.

Amid these and other challenges, this year will also require increased vigilance on the part of our special operations command—for the changes sweeping across North Africa, the Middle East, and South and Central Asia may open up new ungoverned spaces that could be exploited by our enemies.

While our special operators continue to perform with remarkable resilience and success, the effects of nearly ten years of sustained operations and repeated deployments appear to be straining this elite force. Admiral Olson: I am concerned by your recent comment that our special operations forces are showing signs of, quote, “fraying around the edges.” It is important that you lay out today what steps are being taken to mitigate this strain. We are also interested in SOCOM’s progress in meeting growth targets mandated by the Quadrennial Defense Review, as well as any associated issues such as training or facility constraints that you are facing.

We continue to see al Qaeda and affiliated movements attempting to expand their reach through the Maghreb, the Horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Central Asia, and beyond. And we are all eager for the assessments of both our distinguished witnesses about the capabilities of these groups to threaten America’s friends, allies, interests, and homeland.

What is critical to note, however, is that the historic changes now reshaping the broader Middle East are a direct repudiation of al-Qaeda and its terrorist allies. The people of this dynamic and crucial region are rising up to change the character of their governments, but the revolutions they are making are largely defined not by violence, but by peaceful protests. They are inspired not by intolerant and extremist ideologies, but rather by demands for greater freedom, democracy, opportunity, and justice. More than any weapon of war with which this committee must concern itself, it is these principles, and the changes they are inspiring, that will ultimately defeat our terrorist enemies, and if only for that reason alone, these universal values and those now struggling for them deserve our full support. 

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