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Obama: Defense Cuts on the Way but Strategy is to Create a Leaner, Superior Military

​January 5, 2012

President Obama announced a new Pentagon strategy today which will cut billions of dollars for defense over the next decade. He said it will "turn the page on a decade of war," but critics of the plan say it will gut the nation's ability to lead in an increasingly dangerous world.

Appearing in the Pentagon's press briefing room, Obama said that the U.S. economy is forcing the Defense Department to consider a strategy in an all-new way and to reshape the military over time. But he also insisted that the strategy will determine the force structure and not the other way around.

The president stated, "We have to renew our economic strength here at home, which is the foundation of our strength in the world. That includes putting our fiscal house in order."

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who spoke after the president, said curbing the growth in the defense budget from its expected $487 billion in increases over the next decade doesn't mean choosing between national and fiscal responsibilities and that the "very serious debt and deficit problem" in the U.S. is a national security risk.

Panetta went on to say, "The president has made clear, and I've made clear, that the savings that we've been mandated to achieve must be driven by strategy and must be driven by analysis and must not be driven by numbers alone."

The new military structure will be presented to Congress in the president's budget in the coming weeks. Among the proposed changes announced by Panetta would be the size of some of the branches of the military.

"The Army and Marine Corps will no longer need to be sized to support the kind of large-scale long-term military operations that have dominated military priorities and force generations over the past decades." Panetta added that forces will need to be more flexible and adaptable to conflicts that arise around the globe.

Both the president and defense secretary said the U.S. will focus more on challenges within the Asia-Pacific and Mideast regions. Panetta also said that investment may increase in special operations forces, in space and cyberspace capabilities, on quick mobilization techniques, and in new technologies such as unmanned systems. He also pledged to manage the rising cost of health care for military families and wounded warriors while upholding the commitment to U.S. troops.

He and the president both stressed that the plan does not intend to hollow out the military. Obama stressed that the review of the entire defense department's strategy resulted in a new structure that will emphasize counter-terrorism, nuclear deterrence, protecting the homeland, and deterring and defeating aggression by potential adversaries.

"Yes, our military will be leaner, but the world must know, the United States is going to maintain our military superiority with Armed Forces that are agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats," the president stated.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey added, "Even if we didn't have fewer resources, we would expect to change." He went on to say that the "two-war paradigm" left from the Cold War has been an anchor in how the military functioned.

The plan has not been received well by many on Capitol Hill, including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon of California. He described the new approach as the Obama administration's strategy of "lead from behind." "The president has packaged our retreat from the world in the guise of a new strategy to mask his divestment of our military and national defense."

McKeon continued," This strategy ensures American decline in exchange for more failed domestic programs. In order to justify massive cuts to our military, he has revoked the guarantee that America will support our allies, defend our interests and defy our opponents." He also said that the world expects and needs to have a leader, and that if the U.S. steps back from that role, someone else will come forward.

Panetta said that there will necessarily be trade-offs that will be tough for some, but some of the cuts and changes have to be done to avoid "sequestration," the automatic cuts scheduled for 2013 which were a result of the "super committee's" failure to agree on a plan to reduce the deficit over the next 10 years.

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