(WASHINGTON) — After a decade of war, President Obama on Thursday outlined his contriversial strategy for a leaner, less costly military with an increased focus on emerging threats from Asia, saying, “we need to be smart, strategic and set priorities” as the Pentagon faces steep budget cuts.
“The tide of war is receding. But the question that this strategy answers is what kind of military will we need after the long wars of the last decade are over. And today, we’re moving forward, from a position of strength,” Obama said in the first visit by a U.S. president to the Pentagon briefing room.
With U.S. troops out of Iraq, and the drawdown underway in Afghanistan, the new strategy includes reductions in military personnel — the size of the cuts amount to tens of thousands of soliders — and aims to ready the Pentagon for reduced funding.
“As we look beyond the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — and the end of long-term, nation-building with large military footprints — we’ll be able to ensure our security with smaller conventional ground forces,” the president said. “So, 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 made clear the U.S. will retain its ability to counter terrorism, but will also take increased steps to confront new threats from countries like China. “We’ll be strengthening our presence in the Asia Pacific, and budget reductions will not come at the expense of this critical region,” the president said, echoing the message of his trip to the Asia-Pacific this fall.
“We’re going to continue investing in our critical partnerships and alliances, including NATO, which has demonstrated time and again — most recently in Libya — that it’s a force multiplier. We’re going to stay vigilant, especially in the Middle East,” he added.
The new strategy is the result of the Defense Strategic Review which the president ordered last spring. “I called for this comprehensive defense review to clarify our strategic interests in a fast-changing world, and to guide our defense priorities and spending over the coming decade. Because the size and structure of our military and defense budget have to be driven by a strategy not the other way around,” he said.
While Obama’s remarks were short on specifics and did not detail the budget cuts, he preemptively defended the strategy. “Some will no doubt say the spending reductions are too big; others will say they’re too small. It will be easy to take issue with a particular change. But I would encourage all of us to remember what President Eisenhower once said: that ‘each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs.’ After a decade of war, and as we rebuild the sources of our strength — at home and abroad — it’s time to restore that balance,” he said.
Critics were quick to pounce, with House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon, (R-Calif.) issuing a statement calling Obama’s plan a “retreat.” Rep. McKeon said: “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. 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.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Eli Watkins, CNN
Pamela Brown, Jake Tapper and Dan Merica, CNN
Jackie Wattles, CNN