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Unveiling Defense Strategy, Military Cuts Robert Burns
WASHINGTON — Looking beyond the
wars he inherited, President Barack Obama on Thursday launched a reshaping and
shrinking of the military. He vowed to preserve U.S. pre-eminence even as the Army
and Marine Corps shed troops and the administration considers reducing its
arsenal of nuclear weapons.
changes won't come without risk, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said. But he
called it acceptable and, because of budget restraints, inevitable.
a presentation at the Pentagon, Obama said the U.S.
is "turning a page" after having killed Osama bin Laden, withdrawn
troops from Iraq and begun
to wind down the war in Afghanistan.
He outlined a vision for the future that some Republican lawmakers quickly
military will be leaner, but the world must know the United States is going to maintain
our military superiority," Obama said with Panetta and the Joint Chiefs of
Staff chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey, at his side.
a presidential election year the strategy gives Obama a rhetorical tool to
defend his Pentagon budget-cutting choices. Republican contenders for the White
House already have attacked him on national security issues including missile
and planned reductions in ground forces.
unveiled the results of an eight-month defense strategy review that is intended
to guide decisions on cutting hundreds of billions from planned Pentagon
spending over the coming decade. The eight-page document contained no details
about how broad concepts for reshaping the military – such as focusing more on
Asia and less on Europe – will translate into troop or weapons cuts.
details will be included in the 2013 defense budget to be submitted to Congress
about every major war or defense speech Obama hits themes intended to resonate
with American voters – mainly, that the United
States is turning a page from two wars, and that any
nation-building will focus on improving the United States, not strategic allies
economy is more likely to determine Obama's re-election fate than national
security. To keep his promises to shrink the deficit and to prove he is serious
about fiscal management to voters wary of enormous government spending, Obama
must show the oft-protected Pentagon is not exempt.
political danger, though, is that his opponents will use any slashing of
spending to paint the president as weak on security.
Panetta and Dempsey said they anticipate heavy criticism of their new strategy,
which was begun last spring by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates after Obama
called for defense spending cuts. The Pentagon now faces at least $487 billion
in cuts in planned defense spending over 10 years.
criticism from Republicans came quickly.
Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services
Committee, issued a statement saying, "This is a lead-from-behind strategy
for a left-behind America."
He called it a "retreat from the world in the guise of a new
said that smaller military budgets will mean some trade-offs and that the U.S. will take
on "some level of additional but acceptable risk." But in a changing
world the Pentagon would have been forced to make a strategy shift anyway, he
said. The money crisis merely forced the government's hand.
wants the new strategy to represent a pivotal point in his stewardship of
defense policy, which has been burdened by two expensive wars begun under
President George W. Bush. The drag those conflicts placed on military resources
has deferred other priorities.
said his administration would not repeat the mistakes made after World War II
when defense reductions left the military ill-prepared.
commander in chief, I will not let that happen again," he said. "Not
on my watch."
involvement in the defense review and his decision to personally announce it at
the Pentagon underscore that he is not just a commander in chief coping with a
slimmer military in debt-ridden times. He is also an incumbent president
seeking a second term and wanting to show who's in charge.
praised the military strategy and the work of crafting it, calling it inclusive
not perfect," the general said. "There will be people who think it
goes too far. Others will say it doesn't go nearly far enough. That probably
makes it about right. It gives us what we need."
said the military will be reshaped between now and 2020 with an emphasis on
countering terrorism, maintaining a nuclear deterrent, protecting the U.S. homeland
and "deterring and defeating aggression by any potential adversary."
are not new military missions, and Obama announced no new capabilities or
defense initiatives. He described a U.S.
force that will retain much of its recent focus, with the exception of fighting
a large-scale, prolonged conflict like the recently ended Iraq mission or the ongoing war in Afghanistan.
"U.S. forces will no longer be sized to conduct
large-scale, prolonged stability operations," the strategy document said,
referring to Iraq and Afghanistan.
unsaid: The military was not sized for those unexpectedly long wars when they
began. The Army had to be expanded by tens of thousands of soldiers and the
Marine Corps also grew. The military at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks was being shaped in somewhat the same form as Obama's vision
for 2020: agile, flexible, reliant on high-tech weaponry and dependent on
new strategy moves the U.S.
further from its longstanding goal of being able to successfully fight two
major regional wars at the same time.
said the U.S.
will maintain a robust nuclear arsenal but hinted at reductions.
is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear
force, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory as
well as their role in U.S.
national security strategy," the strategy said.
new strategy strongly suggests a reduced U.S.
military presence in Europe, notwithstanding a continuing close relationship
with NATO, and says Asia will be a bigger
priority. It also emphasizes improving U.S. capabilities in the areas of
cyberwarfare, missile defense, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen praised the U.S. strategy, calling it
consistent with the alliance's vision for collective defense.
Press writers Ben Feller and Pauline Jelinek in Washington contributed to this report.