Verbatim, as delivered

Last night President Obama spoke eloquently to the nation about his plan of action in Afghanistan. Today we are pleased to welcome three senior officials to testify on the President’s proposed strategy: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen. We greatly appreciate your participation.

As the President stated, it is clear that the United States has vital national security interests at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Determining the best policy to serve those interests is the most difficult foreign policy challenge before this President, before this Congress, and before the American people. It is a situation with no easy answers and no predictable outcomes.

Our goal in the region, as defined by the President, is to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.” Many news reports suggest that there was a healthy debate in the Administration about whether this critical objective could be met by pursuing a targeted counterterrorism strategy as opposed to a more extensive and robust counterinsurgency strategy.

Could the United States succeed in Afghanistan by employing relatively small numbers of Special Operations Forces and high-tech weapons systems to disrupt and defeat al Qaeda and reverse the Taliban’s momentum while also accelerating the training of Afghan security forces?

Or does the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan call for a more ambitious strategy -- one that includes military, political, and economic dimensions -- to protect the people of Afghanistan and instill confidence in that country’s fragile national government?

If we pursue the latter approach, then, as the President indicated, success will hinge on a substantial deployment of civilian resources.

The President also noted that success in Afghanistan is dependent on what he referred to as “an effective partnership with Pakistan.” What more will we expect Pakistan to do that they are not already doing? What more will the U.S. have to do to nurture that important relationship?

And finally, is the full cost of our effort in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, in terms of military and civilian resources, something we can afford and are willing to pay?

The President took the time to consult carefully with his generals, his diplomats, his national security team, and numerous others to form a complete picture of the situation in Afghanistan.

Now begins the deliberative period for Congress and the people we represent. Now is the time for us to evaluate the strategy, to test its coherence and to raise the questions that will examine the assumptions on which it is based. We cannot shirk our responsibility to ask the tough questions; the stakes are simply too high.

I now turn to the Ranking Member, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, for any opening remarks she would like to make, and following that, we will proceed immediately to the testimony of our distinguished witnesses.

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