U.S. military plan casts wary eye at China

A C-2A Greyhound prepares for takeoff aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise in the Arabian Gulf in this undated photo. While the Army and Marine Corps are expected to take diminished roles in the future of the U.S. military, the Air Force and Navy are likely to see increased demand for their specialties. MCSN Gregory A. Pickett II/U.S. Navy

The Cold War is long over. The hot war in Iraq just ended. And America's future in Afghanistan is uncertain.

Now the commander-in-chief has decided it's time for a major overhaul of the U.S. military.

At the Pentagon on Thursday, President Obama announced plans for a "leaner" fighting force, while maintaining America's military superiority.

Republican criticism came quickly. House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon called it "a lead-from-behind strategy for a left-behind America."

CBS News correspondent David Martin reports that the president came to the Pentagon to make sure everybody understands this is his strategy, a strategy he will run for re-election on. If you reduced it to a bumper sticker, it would say: "No more wars like Iraq and Afghanistan."

"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," Mr. Obama said.

Obama unveils new defense strategy
Panetta: Smaller military means more risk
Facing huge potential cuts, defense industry goes on offense

The president and his advisers held up Libya -- where the U.S. committed air and naval power but no land forces -- as a model for future wars. And Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey cited the Pacific as the future theater of competition, if not conflict.

"All of the trends, demographic trends, geopolitical trends, economic trends and military trends are shifting toward the Pacific," Dempsey said.

Dempsey is talking about the rise of China. That and the hard-learned lesson that the U.S. could not afford to fight two wars simultaneously in Iraq and Afghanistan are perhaps the biggest game changers of the past decade. You could say the new strategy is finally catching up with the real world. According to Defense Secretary Panetta, it adds up to a smaller Army and Marine Corps, and more air and sea power.

"It will be more agile, more flexible, ready to deploy quickly, innovative and technologically advanced," Panetta said.

If that sounds familiar, it's because Donald Rumsfeld said much the same thing when he was defense secretary -- before 9/11 changed the world. A smaller force comes with risks, since it leaves less of a margin for error when the unexpected hits. But Joint Chiefs Chairman Dempsey said sticking with the current strategy -- and the resulting budget deficit -- would be even riskier.

The Pentagon's budget will continue to grow, just not as fast as it has since 9/11, and the president pointed out that the U.S. still spends more on defense than the next 10 countries combined.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.

Comments

Follow Us

On Twitter