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Weeks After Iraq Withdrawal, Obama Announces Plans to Shrink U.S. Military

January 5, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
While unveiling the Pentagon's latest defense strategy Thursday, President Obama highlighted a new focus on Asia and a scaled-back military. Ray Suarez reports on the strategy shift, announced just weeks after the last American troops left Iraq.
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TRANSCRIPT

JEFFREY BROWN: Scale back and streamline, but maintain security. Those were the watchwords today as the president and the Pentagon outlined the reshaping of the U.S. military and its focus.

Ray Suarez begins our look.

RAY SUAREZ: The strategy shift comes just over two weeks after the last American troops left Iraq in December and as the U.S. presence in Afghanistan has begun winding down. The president highlighted the moment at the Pentagon today.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Yes, the tide of war is receding. But the question that this strategy answers is what kind of military will we need long after the wars of the last decade are over. And, today, we’re fortunate to be moving forward from a position of strength.

RAY SUAREZ: The defense strategy review outlined at the Pentagon aims to refocus U.S. strategy toward an increased presence in the Pacific with an eye toward China and its rapid military buildup.

The review also marks a shift away from military budgets that exploded in the wake of 9/11. Congress enacted defense cuts last summer amounting to more than $489 billion over the next 10 years. At the same time, the president said today overall defense spending will still increase.

BARACK OBAMA: 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. 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.

RAY SUAREZ: But the cuts will mean streamlining, with the Army dropping from 570,000 possibly to 490,000 soldiers over 10 years.

The size of the Marine Corps is also expected to be reduced. The military also may have to find savings in pay and health care benefits for soldiers and their families.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the changes will not be painless.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON PANETTA: There’s no question — there’s no question that we have to make some tradeoffs and that we will be taking, as a result of that, some level of additional, but acceptable risk. These are not easy choices.

RAY SUAREZ: The choices could get tougher still. When the congressional super committee failed to agree on $1.2 trillion of deficit savings, it automatically triggered an additional $500 billion in defense cuts. Those will take effect in January of 2013, unless Congress intervenes.

For all that, the commander in chief insisted today he doesn’t mean to repeat mistakes made after World War II and Vietnam by cutting too much.

BARACK OBAMA: 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.

RAY SUAREZ: That did not stop criticism of the new strategy from Republicans in Congress.

The chair of the House Armed Services Committee, California Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, issued a statement calling it “a lead-from-behind strategy for a left-behind America.”

In the meantime, no specific dollar amounts were outlined today. They will wait for the 2013 budget, which President Obama will submit to Congress next month.