Saying that "the size and structure of our military and defense budget have to be driven by a strategy — not the other way around," President Obama just gave a broad overview of his administration's new military strategy.
Speaking at the Pentagon, Obama said that:
"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 We'll continue to get rid of outdated Cold War-era systems so that we can invest in the capabilities we need for the future, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance;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.
"So, yes, 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. ...
"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."
Update at 11:30 a.m. ET. On The "Two-War" Strategy:
As we reported earlier, there has been speculation that the administration's plans would mean the U.S. military would no longer be able to conduct "two sustained ground wars at one time," as The New York Times put it.
Panetta just said that "make no mistake, we will have the capability to confront and defeat more than one adversary at a time."
And here is what the Pentagon's report says on that point:
"U.S. forces will be capable of deterring and defeating aggression by any potential adversary. Credible deterrence results from both the capabilities to deny an aggressor the prospect of achieving his objectives and from the complementary capability to impose unacceptable costs on the aggressor.
"As a nation with important interests in multiple regions, our forces must be capable of deterring and defeating aggression by an opportunistic adversary in one region even when our forces are committed to a large-scale operation elsewhere. Our planning envisages forces that are able to fully deny a capable state's aggressive objectives in one region by conducting a combined arms campaign across all domains – land, air, maritime, space, andcyberspace.
"This includes being able to secure territory and populations and facilitate a transition to stable governance on a small scale for a limited period using standing forces and, if necessary, for an extended period with mobilized forces. Even when U.S.forces are committed to a large-scale operation in one region, they will be capable of denying the objectives of – or imposing unacceptable costs on – an opportunistic aggressor in a second region. U.S. forces will plan to operate whenever possible with allied and coalition forces. Our ground forces will be responsive and capitalize on balanced lift, presence, and prepositioning to maintain the agility needed to remain prepared for the several areas in which such conflicts could occur."
Update at 11:50 a.m. ET. But Has The Two-War Policy Changed?
Asked if the administration is now saying that U.S. military strategy no longer envisions being able to conduct ground wars in two "theaters" at the same time — and instead focuses on being able to fight one regional conflict and one "holding action" simultaneously — Panetta said the "fundamental question" remains can the U.S. confront more than one enemy or aggressor at a time "and be able to defeat them?"
"With the joint force we are creating here we can," the defense secretary said.
Then Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added that "nobody has said and no where in this document does it say we're not going to fight land wars. ... It does say specifically [that] we have to be capable of conducting operations across the full spectrum. ... It would be really a mistake ... to walk away with the impression that we're going to niche ourselves to some point on the spectrum of conflict."
Update at 1:50 p.m. ET. Republican Reaction:
The Associated Press reports that Rep. Howard 'Buck' McKeon (R-Calif.) the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, issued a statement saying, "This is a lead-from-behind strategy for a left-behind America." He called it a "retreat from the world in the guise of a new strategy."