Barack Obama announced hundreds of billions of dollars of cuts to US military spending over the next ten years and a renewed focus towards Asia and the Pacific region on Thursday, the result of a “defence strategic review” which aims to scale back the propensity for American engagement in large-scale nation building missions (read: invasions) in the face of the county’s disastrous debt problems.

Making a rare appearance in the Pentagon briefing room, Obama’s pledged to reduce the US army, now around 570,000 people, to around 490,000. Releasing an eight-page strategy document outlining his vision, the President also pledged to invest in intelligence gathering, cyberwarfare and countering — without articulating how — the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Flanked by Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, Obama was careful to reinstate America’s military credentials.

“Our military will be leaner,” he said, “but the world must know the United States is going to maintain our military superiority.”

Predicting criticism about leaving the US ill-prepared for large scale responses — citing WWII and Vietnam as examples —  Obama vowed: “As commander-in-chief, I will not let that happen again. Not on my watch.”

Naturally reactions from the commentariat have been many and varied, accentuated by the fact that this announcement takes place at the beginning of an election year.

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, livid, wrote:

The voters can decide whether it is wise, when the number of threats is proliferating and when Obama refuses to clamp down on domestic spending, for him to sacrifice national security in order to make his fiscal record look less horrendous than it is.

Kieran Lalor from New York Daily News expressed concern for the thousands of jobs to be lost in NY and used the occasion to join the chorus criticising Obama’s economic cred:

Our elected representatives talk about the need for jobs, yet few have spoken up to protect New York’s defense workers from the chopping block. The massive defense cuts proposed by the Obama administration coupled with the mandatory defense cuts resulting from the failure of the debt supercommittee will put all Americans at greater risk and have a devastating impact on the economy of the Empire State.

KT McFarland at Fox News was outraged about Obama’s choice of timing and the location of his announcement. She sprayed:

Whose bright idea was it for the President of the United States to unveil his defense budget cuts [on] the cusp of a crisis with Iran and in the Pentagon’s briefing room? — What were they thinking?

Perhaps they think it makes President Obama look like a tough commander in chief to announce he’s slashing the defense budget with the victims standing right behind him.

Republicans across American predictably responded with outrage, Rep. Randy Forbes one of many:

Unfortunately, this review dangerously fails to identify risks assumed by drastic budget cuts. This laundry list of vague ‘priorities’ is not a strategy for superiority. It is instead a menu for mediocrity.

Yochi J. Dreazen from National Journal took a middle of the road approach and predicted an onslaught of vitriol from front-running Republican presidential candidate nominee Mitt Romney, who sings from a very different hymn sheet:

Talk of reducing the size of the nation’s ground forces is likewise sparking fierce GOP criticism on Capitol Hill and from leading Republican presidential candidates like Mitt Romney, who has said – without specifying how he’d pay for it – that he’d expand the forces instead.

Not all the responses have been negative. David Rothkopf at Foreign Policy, in fact, called for greater cuts:

Frankly, I think the cuts are far too small and the U.S. can go much further without materially impacting our status as the world’s sole and uncontested superpower. As the president notes, even with these cuts we will still be spending vastly more than every major military power in the world combined.

Peter Fray

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