Obama, Panetta unveil new Defense plan for leaner, more agile force

President Barack Obama joined Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at the Pentagon Thursday to roll out a new U.S. defense strategy calling for a leaner, more agile army--in an unprecedented briefing by an American president at the Pentagon podium.

The new defense strategy document--entitled "Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense"--calls for cutting the size of the U.S. Army over the next decade to 490,000 troops--about 10,000 more troops than the United States had at the time of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It also reflects the Obama administration's recently announced intention to reorient America's national security focus towards Asia, while continuing to reduce its heavy post-9/11 footprint in the Middle East in the wake of the end of the Iraq war and the planned draw-down of U.S. forces in Afghanistan by 2014.

"The question that this strategy answers is what kind of military will we need long after the wars of the last decade are over," Obama said at the Pentagon Thursday.

"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," he continued. "We'll continue to get rid of outdated Cold War-era systems," while investing in "intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, counterterrorism, countering weapons of mass destruction" and means to operate in difficult environments.

"Our military will be leaner," Obama continued, "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."

Military analysts said the proposal to cut the overall size of the Army is unsurprising in the current budget environment. But some conservatives were critical of the proposed cuts, while advocates countered maintaining the current posture and force size poses other risks.

"The budget math is pretty unforgiving," Tom Donnelly, military analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, told Yahoo News Wednesday by email. "But strategically speaking, it's as though we learned nothing from what's happened since 9/11; it's one thing to have made the mistake the first time, quite another and more serious to make it a second time."

"Even if we didn't have a financial crisis, we would redo the strategy," countered Larry Korb, former Reagan administration Pentagon assistant secretary and a national security expert at the progressive Center for American Progressive, in an interview with Yahoo News Thursday.

The strategy review reflects former Defense Secretary Bob Gates' comment last year that any Defense Secretary who again recommends sending ground forces in another land invasion of choice ought to have his head examined, Korb noted.

"Again, we are still going to have an army that is still bigger than it was on 9/11," when it was at 480,000 troops, Korb continued. "If we got into two large ground wars again, we now know the [National] Guard and Reserves are pretty effective. You can call them up and use them. And if worse comes to worse, you still have the Selective Service and can get large forces going there."

"We are still spending more [on defense and the military] than the next ten countries combined," Korb added.

Maintaining the current American defense posture would entail other risks approach to American global leadership, military officials said Thursday.

"We do accept some risks in this strategy ... but we could face greater risks if we did not change from our current approach," the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said Thursday at the Pentagon. "I am pleased with the outcome. There will be people who think it went too far; others who say it did not go far enough. That probably makes it about right."

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