July 18, 2013
As prepared for delivery:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I join you in welcoming General Dempsey and Admiral Winnefeld and thank them and their families for their continued willingness to serve our country. Given the enormous challenges facing our military at home and abroad, the nominations for reappointment as Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff come at a pivotal moment.
Over the last four years, our military has suffered a steep and damaging drop in capabilities and readiness. This Administration has cut nearly $600 billion from the defense budget, reduced end-strength by more than 100,000 personnel, reduced the size of our naval fleet, and cut hundreds of Air Force combat aircraft. Training and reset accounts have been gutted and modernization programs are being starved of resources. On the horizon is an additional $500 billion in cuts if we are unable to find a solution to sequestration. These drastic cuts and prolonged budget uncertainty are pushing the finest military in the world to the brink. On our current path, we will soon move beyond furloughs and program cuts to firings and cancellations. This neglect has broken faith with our military and civilian men and women and the longer we allow our force to deteriorate, the harder and more expensive it will be to repair and rebuild.
Earlier this year, Chairman Levin and I sent a letter to the Secretary of Defense requesting a detailed plan on how the Department would allocate the additional $52 billion in reductions slated for FY 2014 under the next round of sequestration. The response—which I hear the Secretary had to personally clear through the White House—was woefully light on details. What the letter did make clear, however, is that further cuts in FY 2014 will amplify the pain our military is currently enduring.
We have heard repeatedly from our military leaders that they soon will be unable to respond to contingencies around the world—a startling admission given the range of global threats we’re facing. Admiral Winnefeld, earlier this year, you were quoted as saying that “there could be for the first time in my career instances where we may be asked to respond to a crisis and we will have to say that we cannot.” I fear that we’re well on our way to this unthinkable reality.
Recently the Department has undertaken actions internally to address some critical readiness issues, including the resumption of flight operations for the Air Force after many squadrons had been grounded for over three months. While this development is welcome news, I remain concerned other vital training and maintenance activities across the services remain curtailed and nearly 700,000 DoD civilians are still being furloughed. What I find most concerning, however, is that much of this pain has been unnecessary and could have been avoided all along.
Earlier this year, I introduced a bill that would have provided the Department with flexibility to allocate the sequester cuts in a way that minimizes risk. However, rather than support an authority that his top military commanders have repeatedly asked for, the President instead chose politics over the needs of our warfighters and issued a veto threat of my bill. This misguided decision came at the expense of our military and civilian personnel and their families who continue to bear the brunt of the ongoing fiscal uncertainty.
Our actions at home do not occur in a vacuum. Around the world, we’re seeing the ill effects of declining military capability and an absence of American leadership. From the Middle East to the Asia Pacific, our adversaries are emboldened and there are growing doubts about the United States among our allies.
In Syria, Bashar al Assad flaunts President Obama’s self-imposed ‘red-line’ as his reign of indiscriminate brutality continues unabated. The death toll has eclipsed 100,000 with millions more displaced. As the situation deteriorates and the violence spreads, many are asking: where is the leadership from the President of the United States? I know that none of the options before us are easy or come without cost, but that’s not an excuse for this President to do nothing. His lack of leadership is leaving a hole that we in Congress cannot fill.
In Afghanistan, the ongoing transition is tenuous and violence remains high in many parts of the country. The lack of clarity about a residual force and the President’s loose talk about a ‘zero-option’ is driving the growing international skepticism about America’s long-term commitment to Afghanistan and causing some Afghans to hedge their bets. And while President Karzai’s erratic behavior breeds distrust, we must not let our frustration lead us to shortsighted decisions that will undermine our enormous sacrifices and could allow Afghanistan to again become a haven for international terrorism. We must not repeat the mistakes of Iraq where our inability to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement and the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. forces has contributed to a deteriorating security situation and allowed the resurgence of Al Qaeda.
Elsewhere across the region, our credibility is waning. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns recently traveled to Cairo to meet with members of the Egyptian interim government but was rebuffed by two of the largest blocs who refused to meet with him. Iran remains undeterred in its pursuit of a nuclear weapon despite proclamations from President Obama that such an outcome would be “unacceptable.” The failure of our policies in Libya led to the death of our Ambassador and three brave Americans and we’re now seeing Al Qaeda and its North African affiliates establish a safe haven in the southern part of the country.
In the Asia-Pacific, our vaunted ‘strategic rebalance’ risks being undermined by drastic budget cuts at a time when our security interests in the region have never been more pronounced. China’s continued rise and hegemonic aspirations dominate regional dynamics, North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal and unpredictable behavior threatens stability on the Korean Peninsula, and long simmering territorial disputes throughout the South China Sea appear one miscalculation away from conflict.
I raise these issues today because I am deeply concerned by the current state of our military. As our military is experiencing an unprecedented deterioration of readiness and capabilities, I ask our witnesses what advice they’re giving the President on these matters? General Dempsey, at what point will you advise him that the defense cuts imposed by the Administration and sequestration will result in the dire scenario you laid out before our committee in February that "if ever the force is so degraded and so unready, and then we’re asked to use it, it would be immoral.” You also warned in testimony to this committee that defense cuts will ‘‘severely limit our ability to implement our defense strategy. It will put the nation at greater risk of coercion, and it will break faith with men and women in uniform.’’ The Service Chiefs are already talking about combat forces and capabilities that are starting to hollow out and will be hollow by 2014.
The Defense Department is now only a few months away from Fiscal Year 2014 with no fix for the next round of sequestration. Yet we have not heard any appeal, proposal, or request from the Commander-in-Chief to seek a compromise to responsibly cut federal spending without causing further harm to our military. This is unacceptable and puts our men and women in uniform at greater risk.
I’m frequently reminded of comments from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper who stated earlier this year that “in almost 50 years in intelligence, I don't remember when we've had a more diverse array of threats and crisis situations around the world to deal with.” Are we matching these threats with our capabilities? I’m afraid the answer is no. That’s what today’s hearing should be about.