President Obama, in a rare appearance at the Pentagon on Thursday. Flanked by his military commanders and defense secretary, stressed the need to curtail some spending at the Pentagon while shifting America’s focus to the Asia Pacific region. Besides the president, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made remarks. Emphasizing that while U.S. troops pullout of Afghanistan in the coming years and all combat troops have been shifted out of Iraq, the “tide of war is receding,” Obama said.
“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 fortunate to be moving forward, from a position of strength.” In unveiling a new U.S. defense strategy that places an emphases on a much smaller and nimble military, post-Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military must be prepared to tackle smaller fields of battle from the types of wars that the U.S. concluded in Iraq and is in the process of winding down in Afghanistan.
“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. We’ll continue to get rid of outdated Cold War-era systems so that we can invest in the capabilities that we need for the future, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, counterterrorism, countering weapons of mass destruction and the ability to operate in environments where adversaries try to deny us access,” Obama said in his first ever remarks as commander-in-chief at the Pentagon.
The new defense strategy takes into account several hundred billions in cuts to be made at the Pentagon within the next decade. Additionally, because of Congress’ inability to find consensus on austerity measures during the failed debt-reduction supercommittee, an additional $500 billion in cuts is likely at the Pentagon. While Obama’s comments did not address any specifics about programs to be axed or curtailed, the details are expected as his federal budget is released to Congress. The comments at the Pentagon emphasized a strategic rethinking of what America’s military commitments should be in the near-term.
With an election year underway, the president also seemed to be attempting to undercut the inevitable criticisms that will be leveled at him by whomever his potential GOP nominee is. “Now we’re turning the page on a decade of war. Three years ago, we had some 180,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, we’ve cut that number in half. And as the transition in Afghanistan continues, more of our troops will continue to come home. More broadly, around the globe we’ve strengthened alliances, forged new partnerships, and served as a force for universal rights and human dignity,” Obama said.
With China investing heavily in its military, North Korea still unresolved and increasingly unpredictable following the death of its leader, Kim Jong-il last month, and various countries jockeying for supremacy in the South China Sea, the U.S. must increase its presence in the Asia Pacific region. “As I made clear in Australia, we’ll be strengthening our presence in the Asia-Pacific, and budget reductions will not come at the expense of this critical region.” According to officials involved in the shaping of the defense strategy, the president was heavily involved, meeting with Panetta, his Defense Secretary, and other officials at least a half dozen times.