On Thursday President Obama unveiled a new military strategy that will scale back Pentagon spending. In light of the killing of Osama bin Laden, the end of the war in Iraq and efforts to wind down the war in Afghanistan, the president posited that some changes are in order. Speaking from the Pentagon, however, he said that the new strategy doesn't radically alter defense priorities.
We will be strengthening our presence in the Asia Pacific, and budget reductions will not come at the expense of that critical region. 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 will stay vigilant, especially in the Middle East.
Although full details of the cutbacks will be announced in coming weeks, Obama did provide a few examples:
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 We'll continue to get rid of outdated Cold War-era systems so that we can invest in the capabilities that we need for the future, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance,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.
The president also assured the country that despite the streamlining, the United States will remain the world's leading military power. But pushback nonetheless came almost immediately, including from House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.), who released a statement criticizing the strategy as being a "retreat from the world" and an attempt to solve the deficit problem on the back of the military.
Yet as much as a sacred cow that military spending is, cuts shouldn't come as a surprise. In budget talks throughout the past year — most theatrically during the summer's debt-ceiling negotiations — the president and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have insisted that everything in the federal budget is on the table. Now, instead of their constantly talking about it, those gears are about to be put in motion.
Still, anticipating the backlash, Obama closed by framing the cutbacks in this context:
I think it's important for all Americans to remember, over the past 10 years, since 9/11, our defense budget grew at an extraordinary pace. 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. In fact, the defense budget will still be larger than it was toward the end of the Bush administration. And 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.
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.