Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And let me welcome Director Panetta and congratulate him on his nomination to be the next Secretary of Defense. I am grateful for Director Panetta’s remarkable career of public service and his willingness to serve in this new and important capacity. I am appreciative of your family and the support they have given to you. Let me also welcome our colleagues from California today, who will shortly underscore your extraordinary qualifications to assume the position of Secretary of Defense.
Your successes as Director of the CIA over the last 2 years – and there have been many, especially finding and eliminating Osama bin Laden – are a credit to you, and to the men and women of the intelligence community. At the same time, I know the Director would be the first to admit that he has big shoes to fill, if confirmed, in the person of Robert Gates. I have seen many Secretaries of Defense in my years, and I believe that history will long remember Secretary Gates as one of America’s finest, most effective, and most impactful Secretaries of Defense.
One of the key criteria I am looking for in the next Secretary of Defense is continuity—the continuation of the wise judgment, policies, and decision-making that have characterized Secretary Gates’s leadership of the Department of Defense.
Thanks to the good work of Secretary Gates, his team, and our men and women in uniform, the next Secretary of Defense will take office with a great deal of positive momentum. But many consequential challenges remain. Indeed, over the next several years, our country faces decisions related to our national security and defense that will echo for decades to come—decisions that will determine whether we remain the world’s leading global military power, able to meet our many commitments worldwide, or whether we will begin abandoning that role.
What will have perhaps the most impact on this outcome is the President’s stated goal of cutting $400 billion in defense spending by 2023—on top of the $178 billion in efficiencies and topline reductions that Secretary Gates already announced. In recent weeks, Secretary Gates has been sounding the alarm against misguided and excessive reductions in defense spending that cut into the muscle of our military capabilities. I could not agree with him more. Defense spending is not what is sinking this country into fiscal crisis, and if the Congress and the President act on that flawed assumption, they will create a situation that is truly unaffordable: the decline of U.S. military power.
I know there will be cuts to defense spending, and some reductions are no doubt necessary to improve the efficiency of the Department of Defense. But I also remember General Edward Meyer, then Chief of Staff of the Army, who warned in 1980 that excessive defense cuts over many years had produced a “hollow army.” That is not an experience that we can or should repeat in the years to come. We must learn the lessons of history. So I would welcome the nominee’s opinion on this vital matter, including how President’s proposal could be implemented.
Another major decision involves how we achieve our objectives in the three conflicts in which U.S. forces are now engaged: Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.
In Iraq, the key question now is whether some presence of U.S. forces will remain in Iraq beyond the end of this year, pending Iraqi request and approval, to support Iraq’s continuing needs and our enduring national interests. I believe such a presence is necessary, as Secretary Gates has argued. In Afghanistan, the main question is the size and scope of the draw down of forces beginning this July. Here, too, I would agree with Secretary Gates that any draw down should be modest so as to maximize our ability to lock in the hard-won gains of our troops through the next fighting season. Finally, in Libya, there are signs that Qaddafi may be starting to crack, but the odds of a stalemate remain far too high. I believe U.S. strategy should be to reduce those odds as much as possible and quickly force Qaddafi to leave power, rather than hoping we achieve that objective with minimal effort.
Another significant challenge facing the Defense Department is acquisition reform for its weapons and services. Secretary Gates has made some courageous decisions in attempting to get major weapons procurement programs on track. A similar focus needs to be brought to how the Defense Department chooses to buy billions of dollars in services and to manage rising personnel costs in a way that best enables our armed forces to maintain the highest degree of readiness. In addition, especially in this budget environment, it will be important to continue to eliminate weapons programs that are over cost, behind schedule, and not providing improvements in combat power and capabilities. After ten years of war, we must continue to eliminate every dollar of wasteful spending that siphons resources away from our most vital need: enabling our troops to succeed in combat.
Director Panetta: You are nominated to lead our armed forces amid their tenth year of sustained overseas combat. Not surprisingly, this has placed a major strain on our forces and their families. And yet, our military is performing better today than at any time in our history. This is thanks to the thousands of brave young Americans in uniform who are writing a new chapter in the history of our great country. They have shown themselves to be the equals of the greatest generations before them. And the calling that all of us must answer, in our service, is to be equal and forever faithful to the sacrifice of these amazing Americans.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.