Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important hearing.  I also want to thank our witnesses for appearing today to provide their views on U.S. policy and strategy in the Middle East.  We are fortunate to have such a distinguished panel of experts who have spent decades studying and working in the region and who continue to make important contributions to the discussion of U.S. strategy and policy matters.  I’m confident you will provide valuable context to the dynamic political and security environment we see in the Middle East today.

Working with our partners on the ground, we have made great progress in our efforts to dismantle the so-called ISIS caliphate.  According to U.S. Central Command, in the last three years the coalition has liberated more than 4.5 million people and 52,000 square kilometers of territory from ISIS control.  This is a significant achievement for the coalition and our Iraqi and Syrian partners.  It is also important to recognize that ISIS, al Qaeda, and other violent extremists are not yet defeated and remain intent on attacking the U.S. and our interests while taking advantage of opportunities afforded by destabilization in the Middle East.

Despite our operational success against ISIS, we have not achieved similar success in addressing the political and social challenges in the Middle East that gave rise to ISIS in the first place.  Our efforts to deal ISIS, al Qaeda, and others a lasting defeat must not rest with the Department of Defense alone.  Sustainable solutions will require significant contributions from the State Department, USAID, and others.  Unfortunately, our ability to achieve such a whole-of-government approach is hampered by massive proposed cuts to the State Department’s budget and the fact that our career diplomats are leaving government service at an alarming rate.  Each of you has deep experience in utilizing the non-military tools of our national power, and I hope you will provide the committee with your views on how such tools can be more effectively leveraged.

Violent extremism is not the only national security challenge facing the United States in the Middle East.  Despite the success of the Iranian nuclear deal in putting a halt to the greatest threat facing the U.S. and our allies in the region – namely a nuclear-armed Iran – the IRGC Quds Force and its proxies continue a campaign of malign and destabilizing activities across the region, most notably in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.  Coupled with an increasingly assertive foreign policy exhibited by Saudi Arabia, it is hard to imagine the geopolitical landscape in the Middle East being more complicated than it is today.

If we are to successfully navigate these challenges, we need to be clear in communicating our values and objectives.  From the retweeting of anti-Muslim rhetoric, to last week’s announcement concerning the U.S. Embassy in Israel, the President has repeatedly made it more difficult for our national security and diplomatic professionals to do their jobs.  The risk of failed U.S. policy in the Middle East is significant and we can’t afford any unforced errors.

I again want to thank our witnesses not only for being here today, but for their significant contributions to our country through their decades of work in the foreign service.  I look forward to their testimony.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.