Defense Overnight: GOP moves to stop Army, Marine Corps downsizing

THE TOPLINE: Defense hawks introduced legislation on Thursday that would end troop cuts for the Army and Marine Corps.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.), comes two days after the administration released its 2017 budget request that includes reducing the Army to 460,000 active duty forces by the end of next year. 

That number is slated to shrink further, to 450,000, by the end of 2018. The Marine Corps is slated to be reduced from 184,000 to 182,000 during that time.  

ADVERTISEMENT
Turner and Gibson say the end numbers are too low, and they want to halt the action so that the next president will have more flexibility for dealing with future threats. 

"To put it into perspective, when you look at land forces, the day before the 11th of September, 2001, you were looking at essentially for the active component, 480,000, almost 481,000," Gibson said, referring to the Army's levels.

The coming legislation ties into an effort by defense hawks to increase defense spending in 2017 above the figures set in last year's Bipartisan Budget Act. It set the Pentagon's base budget at $524 billion and additional war funding at $59 billion. 

 

REID WARY OF GOP SPENDING PUSH: Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies Republicans are headed for a disappointing end to their year in power Obama's HHS secretary could testify in Menendez trial MORE (D-Nev.) is accusing Republicans of trying to boost defense spending above funding levels set by a two-year budget deal, reports The Hill's Jordain Carney. 

"My friend the Republican leader is obviously trying to pave the way to increase defense funding and go against the middle class," he said, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGun proposal picks up GOP support Children’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform MORE (R-Ky.).

Reid's comments follow calls from defense hawks for billions of dollars in new military spending. Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainRubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad with pro-communist posts The VA's woes cannot be pinned on any singular administration Overnight Defense: Mattis offers support for Iran deal | McCain blocks nominees over Afghanistan strategy | Trump, Tillerson spilt raises new questions about N. Korea policy MORE (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has said he wants at least an extra $17 billion. 

McConnell on Thursday morning didn't specifically endorse exceeding defense-spending levels included in the two-year deal reached last year. Noting the current challenges the U.S. military faces, he suggested that the Senate could pass an annual defense policy bill "at levels that allow us to modernize the force and execute current operations."

Reid suggested earlier this week that walking away from the two-year budget deal would risk a government shutdown.

"I don't think they want to close government again. The law is in effect. And we're going to stick with what we did last December," he told reporters Tuesday.

 

OBAMA'S WAR LEGACY: Nine years after President Obama launched his White House bid, The Hill took a look at the administration's unsettled legacy on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Be careful how you leave. That's the advice Ryan Crocker, President Obama's ambassador to Afghanistan in 2011–12, offers as the White House seeks to pull the curtains on Obama's two terms by removing U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

It was principally Obama's opposition to the Iraq War that rallied many voters in 2008, but others, especially liberal Democrats, also hoped he would end the war in Afghanistan.

But with less than a year left in the White House, Obama and the United States have not fully disentangled from either conflict -- and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has emerged as a new threat.

Some who served the president at the highest levels don't think history will render a favorable verdict on his handling of Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I think it's going to be a pretty bleak legacy -- not all of it by any means the responsibility of the administration, but there is a lot of responsibility there," Crocker told The Hill in an interview last month.

Read the full story here: http://bit.ly/1O4RLIn

 

FIGHT OVER RUSSIAN ROCKETS INTENSIFIES: Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinGun proposal picks up GOP support Durbin: I had 'nothing to do' with Curbelo snub Republicans jockey for position on immigration MORE (D-Ill.) is pushing back on criticism from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) over Russian rocket engines.

McCain wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal this week blasting Durbin and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) for inserting a provision in the 2016 spending bill that allows the United States to keep buying rocket engines from Russia.

McCain argued the move would support Russian President Vladimir Putin despite his aggressive moves in Ukraine.

Durbin accused McCain of stretching the truth in his own letter to the editor for the Journal Thursday.

"I am co-chairman of the Ukrainian Caucus in the Senate, and my long-held feelings about President Vladimir Putin's bloody invasion of that sovereign nation are well established," Durbin wrote. "Having been personally invited by Sen. McCain to accompany him to Ukraine, he knows his suggestion that he is the only one truly willing to confront Mr. Putin is shameless."

The spending bill reversed a provision championed by McCain in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act that limited buys of the Russian engine, called RD-180, to nine in an effort to cover rocket launches until U.S. companies could produce an American-made engine.

Durbin and Shelby, who sit on the Senate Appropriations Committee, did so to benefit their home states, McCain added. ULA, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, has a rocket plant in Alabama, and Boeing is based in Illinois.

 

PETRAEUS: SYRIA CAN'T BE PUT TOGETHER AGAIN: Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus expressed doubt in a recent interview with The Hill that Syria can be pieced back together after a nearly five-year civil war. 

"Can Syria actually be put back together again? It is by no means clear that it can be put together again; in fact, I tend to think not, but we shall see," he said in an interview last week.

He made the comments as Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryFor the sake of national security, Trump must honor the Iran deal Bernie Sanders’s 1960s worldview makes bad foreign policy DiCaprio: History will ‘vilify’ Trump for not fighting climate change MORE tries to save a struggling peace process between the Shiite-backed Syrian government and Sunni opposition rebels. The conflict helped fuel the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Kerry is pushing for a cease-fire in Syria in order to get the process back on track when talks resume on Feb. 25.

But Russia has in recent weeks stepped up air attacks on the rebel groups, shoring up Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and making it less likely to participate in a process that calls for him to step down.

 

NEW REPORT ON ISIS: The Institute for the Study of War and AEI's Critical Threats Project released a third report in their series assessing US Grand Strategy against ISIS and Al Qaeda. 

The report warns that current efforts to defeat ISIS first have a "high probability" of helping Al Qaeda expand in Syria. Read it here.

 

ICYMI: 

-- Bill introduced to end the draft

-- Planned bill would keep women out of draft

-- Rubio remotely blocks Mexico ambassador nominee while campaigning

-- Clinton camp hits Sanders over missed North Korea vote

 

Please send tips and comments to Kristina Wong, kwong@thehill.com, and Rebecca Kheel, rkheel@thehill.com 

Follow us on Twitter: @thehill@kristina_wong@Rebecca_H_K