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Obama’s new Pentagon strategy: strip benefits and buy more weapons

Published time: January 05, 2012 17:50
Edited time: January 09, 2012 21:24

US President Barack Obama. (AFP Photo / Saul Loeb)

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Pensions and health care plans for US troops will be drastically reduced under a new budget presented by US President Barack Obama on Thursday. Not all aspects of the DoD will be annihilated, however.

The DoD will ditch medical benefits for troops but continue to spend on its expensive arsenal of doom.

President Obama joined Defense Secretary Leon Panetta from the Pentagon early Thursday in a rare public address from the two to talk changes made to the ledger in regards to the operation of the US military. As the US begins to scale back on foreign operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Obama administration is finding less of a need for the servicemen and women that have been on the battlefronts for the last decade. In order to cut costs, the new budget will thus eliminate positions from the armed forces and initiate changes to the pension and health care plans for military vets.

Those changes will help balance the Defense Department’s budget as the Pentagon unveils that it will continue to invest billions in cutting edge weaponry and cyberspace capabilities.

Citing the end of the war in Iraq and a drawdown of troops in Afghanistan, the president said Thursday that the US must strategize on how to successfully prepare for future conflicts. In order to do such, said Obama, boots on the ground will be needed less and less. Instead, the US will rely more heavily on an agile, dispersed arsenal of troops and increased surveillance space age weaponry presence.

President Obama said that the move to scale back personnel comes after decimating al-Qaeda’s leadership, progressing in Afghanistan and a successful mission to protect the Libyan people and assist in the overthrowing of the Gaddafi regime. Despite these victories, however, America must be prepared for future action elsewhere in the world.

“Yes, the tide of war is receding,” said Obama, but “what kind of military will we need long after the wars of the last decade are over?”

“Yes, our military will be leaner, but the world must know that the United States will maintain its military superiority,” he said.

Upon addressing the group himself, Defense Secretary Panetta announced that that superiority will come way of relying less on American citizens during wartime and more on reckless killing machines, specifically unmanned aircraft.

“As we reduce the overall defense budget, we will protect and in some cases increase our investments in special operation forces in new technologies, like . . . unmanned systems, in space and in particular in cyberspace,” said Panetta.

The Pentagon’s new agenda isn’t all slap-dash pension changes and billion dollar drone investments, though. Panetta also insisted that, despite rumors that the US will make changes to its doctrine to being capable of fighting multiple wars to concentrating on just one conflict, the secretary said that America will still be on the ready to fight multiple enemies at any single moment. Panetta revealed that the new plan will place American troops in diverse locals internationally so that the military could be ready to deploy on any country at any time.

“As we move towards this new joint force, we are also rebalancing our global posture and presence,” said Panetta. Specifically, “the rise of new powers across Asia and the dramatic changes” in the Middle East are of concern and will warrant the mobilization of American troops to be ready on the borders of North Korea and perhaps Iran. Such action will come during a time of “a very serious deficit and debt problem here at home,” acknowledged the secretary, however, who said that the economic problem poised on America was “a national security risk.”

“I do not believe that we have to choose between our national security and fiscal responsibility,” said Panetta.

“We are not confronting, obviously, the threats of the past. We are confronting the threats of the twenty-first century. And that demands greater flexibility to shift and deploy forces, to be able to fight and defeat any enemy, anywhere,” said Panetta. “How we defeat the enemy may very well vary across conflicts, but make no mistake, we will have the capability to confront and defeat more than one adversary at a time.

“As a global force, our military will never be doing only one thing,” added Panetta.

Despite this additional deployment and development of additional fronts and bases, also on the agenda, are serious blows to the pensions of veterans.

“We will continue aggressive efforts to weed out waste, reduce overhead, to reform business practices [and] to consolidate our duplicative operations,” said Panetta. Under the Modernizing the Military Retirement System proposal presented to the Pentagon in August, veterans who have served less than 20 years will see drastic changes to how the government provides for them after their time of service.

“We need to have a responsible conversation about how we are going to prepare ourselves for the future,” Panetta said earlier in the year. Under current military procedure, US vets stand to receive a retirement income of half of their salary after completing 20 years of service in the armed forces. The Modernizing the Military Retirement System, however, would put in place a 401k-style plan that would offer government contributions once vets reach regular retirement age.

Panetta only alluded at the changes to veterans’ benefit packages Thursday morning, saying that the final paperwork will be available later this month. He did, however, momentarily address the Defense Department staff that stands to be affected, saying, “I know you have been watching the budget debates here in Washington.”

“I have no higher responsibility than fighting to protect you and your families, and just as you have fought and bled to protect our country, I commit to you that I will fight for you and for your families,” plead Panetta, only to immediately add, “There is no doubt that the fiscal situation that this country faces is difficult and in many ways we are at a crisis point.”

The president himself only offered that the administration will “keep working to give our veterans the care” that they deserve, but failed to specifically outline the changes.

Speaking of flexibility and necessity of getting rid of “Cold War-era” weapons nevertheless didn’t keep the Pentagon from recently investing in some astonishingly expensive and arguably antiquated weaponry. The move to make shifts in the budget come only days after it was revealed that the US will soon have in its arsenal the USS Gerald R Ford aircraft carrier, which will not only serve as the world’s most expensive battleship ever created — but the most expensive weapon as well at a price tag of $11.5 billion for the single ship. As RT reported in August, the US has also been in plans to secure $23 billion in space age drone aircraft planes as well.

Before ending his statement, Panetta succinctly outlined the plan by putting forthspecific changes: the diminishing of the US joint forces; the mobilization of troops specifically in the Middle East and Pacific; increased relationships with allies and strengthening the nation’s ability to strike quickly and confidently.

Panetta said that there is “some level of additional but acceptable risk in the budget plan,” and added that the administration was not left with easy choices in drafting it.

Obama’s address from the Pentagon’s briefing room Thursday morning marked the first time that any commander-in-chief crossed the Potomac to speak from the Defense Department’s headquarters. Upon closing his remarks and handing the room over to Leon Panetta, Obama said that the latest effort from the DoD “reflects the guidance” that he “personally gave” throughout the process of drafting the budget.

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