Obama Announces Plans for Pared-Down Military

With a $1.65 trillion federal budget deficit for fiscal 2011 and with a National Debt in and around $14.5 trillion, there’s no doubt the U.S. has to tighten its belt and reign in government spending.  For many, one obvious place to cut spending is the military.

Last week Thursday, President Obama announced his plan to do just that, to reduce military spending in an effort to create a leaner, more economically viable military.

Under the President’s new strategy, the U.S. Armed Forces lose the capacity to engage in multiple large-scale occupation missions simultaneously (the two-war posture), but will retain the ability to effectively combat terrorism and confront any emerging threats from countries like China and Iran.

“Over the next 10 years, the growth in the defense budget will slow, but the fact of the matter is this: It will still grow, because we have global responsibilities that demand our leadership,” Obama announced during his speech from the Pentagon. “I firmly believe, and I think the American people understand, that we can keep our military strong — and our nation secure — with a defense budget that continues to be larger than roughly the next 10 countries combined.”

With respect to the War on Terror in Iraq (which has officially ended) and Afghanistan, Obama declared that “the tide of war is receding.”

“The question that this strategy answers is what kind of military will we need after the long wars of the last decade are over,” the president told reporters. “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.”

Obviously, there’s a bit of self-contradiction going on here.  On one hand, President Obama is saying U.S. Armed Forces will be ready “for the full range of contingencies and threats” and, on the other, the president is obliquely admitting that the U.S. will no longer have the manpower and resources to fight two major-theater wars simultaneously.

In short, what Obama is really saying is the U.S. will be ready for the full range of contingencies and threats except for engaging in multiple wars with two different countries at the same time (Iran and, say, China).

However unlikely that scenario is, there are critics who believe that by terminating the two-war posture, which is long-standing military policy, the U.S. is putting itself at great risk.

“It’s a ticket to World War III,” James Carafano, of the Heritage Foundation, told CNN. “It is the worst idea ever.”

us military spending 2008 pie chart

And Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), GOP chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said the president’s new blueprint is “a lead-from-behind strategy for a left-behind America.”  He added, “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.”

Additionally, McKeon told CNN that “in order to justify massive cuts to our military, (Obama) has revoked the guarantee that America will support our allies, defend our interests and defy our opponents. The president must understand that the world has always had, and will always have, a leader. As America steps back, someone else will step forward.”

But top military brass, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, came to Obama’s defense.

us military expenditure since 2001 graph chart“The U.S. joint force will be smaller and leaner, but its great strength will be that it is more agile, flexible, ready to deploy, innovative and technologically advanced,” Panetta said.

“Make no mistake — we will have the capability to confront and defeat more than one adversary at a time,” he added.

However, back in November when discussing the effects of budget cuts on the military Panetta had an altogether different attitude.

“It’s a ship without sailors. It’s a brigade without bullets. It’s an air wing without enough trained pilots. It’s a paper tiger,” Panetta complained. “It’s a force that suffers low morale, poor readiness and is unable to keep up with potential adversaries. In effect, it invites aggression.”

What are your thoughts?  Are we jeopardizing our safety by cutting our military budget?  Or is reducing the military budget a decision that was long overdue?

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