By Larry Shaughnessy
The phrase is tailor-made for headlines: Pentagon budget cuts. But the new strategy announced Thursday in a rare news conference with both the president and the secretary of defense is not all about subtraction. In some areas there will be an increase in spending.
President Barack Obama called the cuts being considered "difficult ones." But Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, "As we reduce the overall defense budget, we will protect, and in some cases increase, our investments."
Here's a breakdown of some major changes spelled out in the strategy:
– Special Ops: Special Operations units are troops who carry out the riskiest, most difficult missions, like the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Panetta wants their budget increased. The new strategy says "we will continue to build and sustain tailored capabilities appropriate for counter terrorism and irregular warfare. We will also remain vigilant to threats posed by other designated terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah."
– Asia: Both Obama and Panetta, as they have in the past, promised to increase U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. "We'll be strengthening our presence in the Asia-Pacific, and budget reductions will not come at the expense of this critical region," Obama said. That would include 2,500 Marines who will be training on a base in northern Australia.
"We will emphasize our existing alliances, which provide a vital foundation for Asia-Pacific security. We will also expand our networks of cooperation with emerging partners throughout the Asia-Pacific to ensure collective capability and capacity for securing common interests," Panetta said.
– Cyberspace: Panetta also made clear that the Pentagon must invest more in cyberdefense. "Modern armed forces cannot conduct high-tempo, effective operations without reliable information and communication networks and assured access to cyberspace."
– Troops: Panetta said Thursday that "the U.S. joint force will be smaller and it will be leaner." Making joint force smaller and leaner will mean the Army and the Marine Corps are facing a cut in their "end strength." Because the Army and Marines did the bulk of the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Navy and Air Force have been cutting their end strength for years. That means any significant cuts will come from the ground forces. One way that could happen is with significant cuts in U.S. presence in Europe.
"We are going to have a smaller and leaner force," Panetta said.
– Benefits: Panetta said some savings may come from benefits for the troops. "We want to maintain the quality of benefits that flow to our troops and to their families. ... That's a key red line for us. We're going to maintain those. But at the same time, we have a responsibility to control costs in those areas as well, and that's part of what we will present as part of our budget.
All the ideas put forth Thursday are, so far, just ideas. No specifics have been proposed; that will likely happen after the President's State of the Union address. Then it would go to Congress, where, one might say, "all bets are off."