“These recommendations will adapt and reshape our defense enterprise so that we can continue protecting this nation’s security in an era of unprecedented uncertainty and change. As we end our combat mission in Afghanistan, this will be the first budget to fully reflect the transition DoD is making for after 13 years of war — the longest conflict in our nation’s history.”
It was a frank admission of something we should already know, and have been led to believe: the armed forces of the United States, paragon of a sometimes lethal efficiency, has become both a victim of that efficiency and a victim of the wider, asymmetrically bad domestic economy.
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Now, though, with better training, lighter aircraft and more powerful weapons; with the hindsight of generations of tragic wartime experience; and with an emerging economic reality that makes juggernauts unsustainable, the United States has a military that’s more dynamic, more technologically endowed and more financially strapped — a military that may be about to do more with less. A lot less.
“This budget helps us to remain the world’s finest military — modern, capable and ready — even while transitioning to a smaller, more affordable force over time,” Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said Monday.
The new Pentagon budget could pare as many as 90,000 soldiers from the branches of the U.S. military, dropping the force to about 440,000 — a figure that would be the lowest active force since before World War II. Hagel’s proposal will be part of President Obama’s official budget, which hits the stores on Tuesday calling for about $496 billion in core defense spending.
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WE ARE repositioning to focus on the strategic challenges and opportunities that will define our future: new technologies, new centers of power, and a world that is growing more volatile, more unpredictable, and in some instances more threatening to the United States,” Hagel said at the Pentagon.
But that thunderclap shouldn’t have been such a surprise. Hagel said almost exactly the same thing last July at the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Louisville, Ky. “We have to prepare our institution for whatever comes,” he said.
“To that end,” he said in Louisville, “these cuts are forcing us to make tough but necessary decisions to prioritize missions and capabilities around our core responsibility, which is the security of our country.” And back in December, Hagel announced a plan to slash 20 percent of the Pentagon's headquarters budgets, a move expected to save $1 billion over five years.
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Indulging his inner hawk, Romney said “our Navy is older — excuse me — our Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We're now down to 285. We're headed down to the — to the low 200s if we go through with sequestration. That's unacceptable to me. I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy.
“Our Air Force is older and smaller than any time since it was founded in 1947. We've changed for the first time since FDR. We — since FDR we had the — we've always had the strategy of saying we could fight in two conflicts at once. Now we're changing to one conflict. Look, this, in my view, is the highest responsibility of the president of the United States, which is to maintain the safety of the American people.”
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OBAMA PUSHED back on this convincingly, schooling Mitt from the perspective of the commander in chief in modern times. “I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works. You — you mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets — because the nature of our military's changed.
“We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. And so the question is not a game of Battleship where we're counting ships. It's, it's [about] what are our capabilities?”