Shift in Middle East Requires U.S. Engagement
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
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.