Washington D.C. – House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member, Congressman Adam Smith, made the following statement at today’s hearing on the Middle East and CENTCOM:

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is the latest to join a long list of violent extremist organizations that seem intent on ripping apart the Middle East and large parts of Africa.  Their barbaric assault on Iraq and Syria; the murder of innocent civilians, including Americans; the gruesome execution of a Jordanian pilot; and the rape of women across Iraq and Syria and the recent attacks on Christian minorities, has horrified the world.  The President has requested that Congress pass an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that expresses Congress’s and the American people’s resolve to combat this threat.

I believe that, in general, we have elements in place of a reasonable strategy to push back on ISIL and its affiliates.  While not perfect, building the capacity and capability of partner governments in the region, providing enabling capabilities for others who want to help, and taking limited direct action while avoiding becoming embroiled in a large scale ground war are smart, sustainable ways of involvement. 

Meanwhile, while executing the fight against ISIL, we are continuing to eliminate the remnants of core Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, a mission from which we cannot turn our attention.  We and other countries are negotiating with Iran to control their nuclear program, even as both the U.S. and Iran assist the Iraqi government.  In Syria, we are about to embark on a train and equip mission for the moderate Syrian opposition, who consider themselves in violent opposition not only to ISIL, but to the Iranian-allied Assad regime, Hezbollah, and other Iranian-backed militias.  In Yemen, we have been engaged in a years-long effort to degrade the ability of Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula to attack the United States and our allies, but this effort has been made considerably more complex by the recent actions of the Houthis, who seem to be supported, if not directed, by Iran.  All of which is a short way of saying that the Middle East has become more complex than ever.

It is in our best interests, and I am sure the witnesses agree and hope they will comment on this, to reach a negotiated solution with Iran that constrains their nuclear program and makes it impossible for them to build a nuclear weapon.  Iran engaged in malicious acts around the region, supporting terrorist groups, and fomenting sectarian dissent is bad enough, and Iran doing all these things but with a nuclear deterrent would be far worse. 

We also should spend some time discussing our relations with our regional allies and partners.  While not in the CENTCOM area of responsibility, Israel is a key ally and one who’s interests we should, and I think do, take into account when deciding on approaches in the region.  But beyond Israel, we have key partnerships with countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait, without whom we simply could not accomplish our goals in the region and whom, in turn, rely on us.  It is in our best interests to have close relations with these partners, and I hope General Austin and Under Secretary Wormuth will take some time to discuss how we can make these relationships closer and more productive for everyone.

We also cannot neglect other regional counties, such as Egypt and Bahrain, with whom we have historically close relations, but each of which is experiencing internal troubles which have affected our relationships.  Both countries share our concerns about terrorism in the region and have taken steps to combat this shared threat, including in Syria, but at the same time have taken actions against some internal parties and groups that have led the Administration and Congress to limit weapons sales and transfers.  Going forward, I believe it is key that we get these relationships back on track for all of our sakes.  We need their help regionally, and both of these countries should understand that repressing moderate political opposition only empowers extremists. 

I hope our witnesses can help us with these issues.  While I think we have made progress and are starting down the right path, certainly more can be done.