Defense hawks in Congress wary of president’s military shift

The president outlined the new Pentagon strategy as it confronts more than $450 billion in cuts to defense spending over the next decade and the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The plan includes a move away from strategy based on fighting two wars simultaneously and a reduction in manpower.

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Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), said the two-war standard has been in place since the end of the Cold War and has maintained global security.

“The changes outlined today greatly increase the risk that an adversary would calculate that we would not necessarily devote maximum effort to fighting back against them while raising questions among our allies about the depth of our commitment to their defense,” Lieberman said.

Democrats came to Obama’s defense, touting his national security achievements as commander in chief, including killing Osama bin Laden and helping oust Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi from power.

“Today's announcement lays out a strategy that will enable the United States to build on those successes and confront the threats of today as well as in the future, wherever they may emerge,” said Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. “Not only does the strategic review clearly articulate the threats we face, but it also shows that simply spending more money on defense does not necessarily make us safer — spending more wisely and effectively does.”

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) hinted that looming budget battles that will focus on defense spending. Congress is facing a $500 billion automatic cut to security spending in 2013 triggered by the deficit-reduction supercommittee's failure in November.

“Our deficits themselves represent a national security threat that must be addressed, further reason why it is important to achieve a big and balanced solution this year,” Hoyer said.

The administration’s strategic review of military spending didn’t address the automatic cuts, an issue that has drawn howls of protest from defense hawks, who vow to undo the automatic cuts that Congress designed.

Obama said Thursday that the new direction of the military was not being driven by the budget deficit, and administration officials said the review would have occurred after the end of the decade-long war in Iraq regardless.

“The size and the structure of our military and defense budgets have to be driven by a strategy, not the other way around,” Obama said.

Lieberman disagreed, saying that the Pentagon’s strategy “is being altered mainly for budgetary reasons, not because we have arrived at a new strategic calculation that we are actually safer.”

Sen. John McCain, Obama’s 2008 opponent and a constant, vocal critic of the administration’s national security policy, issued a measured response after he spoke Thursday that did not mention Obama by name.

“The United States must continue to lead the world in order to ensure our economic prosperity and national security,” McCain said. “For that reason, when it comes to how we fund and procure our defense programs, business as usual will not cut it. I intend to ensure that our national defense strategy and budgets continue to strengthen America in its position of global leadership.”