"Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I join you in welcoming our nominees before the committee today and thanking them for their continued willingness to serve our country.
"Dr. Hicks, you have been nominated for the position of Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy. In this capacity, if confirmed, you would serve as the principal advisor to the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy and the Secretary of Defense on matters concerning the formulation, integration, and oversight of defense policy and plans. Mr. Chollet, you have been nominated for the position of Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. In this capacity, if confirmed, you would support the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy and the Secretary of Defense on defense policy and strategy for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
"Both of these positions entail important responsibilities for addressing an increasingly complex global security environment. As recent and repeated testimony before this committee has made abundantly clear, the threats confronting our security, our interests, and our ideals are growing, not diminishing.
"Al-Qaeda is becoming more and more decentralized and its affiliates in Iraq, the Horn of Africa, and the Maghreb are growing stronger, more independent, and increasingly determined to attack American interests.
"Iran continues to threaten stability across the Middle East through its hostile actions, including killing Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, supporting terrorist groups across the region, destabilizing Arab countries, propping up the Assad regime in Syria, and its continued pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability.
"In Afghanistan, the Taliban insurgency is damaged but not broken. Hard won security gains are put at risk by the safe havens for the insurgency in Pakistan, by poor governance and corruption in Afghanistan, and by the continued perception that America will abandon Afghanistan. The Chairman and I, and other members of this Committee, are also concerned by the Administration's intent to reduce the ultimate end-strength of the Afghan National Security Forces from 352,000 to 230,000. On the other hand, recent reports that the United States and Afghanistan are close to concluding a Strategic Partnership Agreement are very encouraging. I would be eager to hear from you, Dr. Hicks, about what the Administration's plans are concerning a residual U.S military force for Afghanistan beyond 2014 as part of this and other agreements with the government of Afghanistan.
"In Iraq, violence is up since the departure of U.S. troops. Democratic gains are increasingly fragile as Prime Minster Maliki appears to be consolidating his power at the expense of the other political blocs. Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda in Iraq appears to making a comeback.
"From Tunisia and Libya, to Egypt, Yemen, and Bahrain, many countries in the Middle East are undergoing monumental changes resulting from the Arab Spring. The situation remains fluid. The outcome of these revolutions remains unclear. And the Department of Defense has an important role to play.
"And then there is Syria, where the Bashar al-Assad regime has slaughtered nearly 10,000 Syrians, and there is no end in sight. What is obvious and indisputable is that the Kofi Annan Plan has failed. Assad has not abided, and will not abide, by a ceasefire. Assad's tanks and artillery continue to shell civilian populations. His forces continue to assault and murder Syrians who attempt to protest peacefully. And his helicopters are now increasingly attacking Syrian towns and cities. Indeed, since the Annan Plan was announced last month, Assad has escalated the violence, killing at least one thousand additional Syrians and displacing thousands more from their homes. The only practical effect that the Annan Plan is having at this point is to provide diplomatic cover for Assad to kill more people.
"Assad's campaign of violence will continue, as it has for more than a year now, until the military balance of power inside the country shifts against him. This shift will only occur when the United States demonstrates the necessary leadership and takes tangible steps with our friends and allies to help the Syrian opposition to defend themselves. Right now, the United States and the world are failing the people of Syria. And every day that we refuse to lead, more Syrians will die.
"Mr. Chairman, I would also like to reiterate my concern about several recent instances where the Department of Defense has been non-responsive to this Committee's requests and non-compliant with the law. I sent a letter to Secretary Panetta on March 29 listing several such instances, and while I have received a response to that letter, several issues remain outstanding. I would like to include that exchange of letters in the record of this hearing.
"Most recently, however, we requested a briefing from the Department on military involvement in possible misconduct in Colombia during the Summit of the Americas. That briefing, which we received yesterday, was wholly non-responsiveness to our request. The briefers had no new information except to provide a timeline and mechanics of the ongoing investigation. They didn't know the most basic facts about the President's schedule or the misconduct incidents themselves.
"Another matter of concern is the establishment of the Defense Clandestine Service. The first we heard about it was in a Washington Post article last week. This committee has oversight of the Department of Defense, and we should not have to learn about major policy decisions through the public media.
"I want the witnesses to know that this non-responsiveness cannot continue.
"I look forward to the testimony of our witnesses, and I hope it will provide this Committee with a clear understanding of how they will approach what is an increasingly complex and dangerous global security environment in the midst of looming cuts to our national defense budget."