Democrats and Republicans in Congress are poised for an ideological battle in 2012 over the future of the U.S. military.

Lawmakers geared up for battle over defense spending, military strategy

By John T. Bennett for The Hill

Democrats and Republicans in Congress are poised for an ideological battle in 2012 over the future of the U.S. military.

For the first time since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Washington’s military strategy and priorities are in flux. The Iraq conflict has ended, the Afghanistan war is on pace to wrap up in 2014 and the Obama administration is enacting plans to shrink the growth of the Pentagon budget.

“The military certainly is at a crossroads,” Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Defense, told The Hill.

While lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that the military has reached a point of transition, the consensus largely ends there. The Obama administration and many congressional Democrats favor a smaller, leaner, cheaper military. But GOP lawmakers and many analysts warn that the world is too unstable for the United States to dial back its military might.

In a series of interviews with The Hill, members of both parties agreed that any changes to the nation’s military strategy, construct and priorities should be based on a revised strategy. But as the fallout from the Obama administration’s announcing of a new defense plan showed, there are sharp differences about what form that strategy will take.

President Obama and Pentagon leaders say their new defense plan will require a “leaner” and “more agile” force, and intend to cast aside parts of the force needed for protracted stability operations.

Senior Pentagon officials said the strategy shift is necessary so the force can fight a major conflict while responding quickly to other conflagrations across the globe. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the envisioned force’s “greatest strength” is that it would be “more agile, flexible, ready to deploy, innovative and technologically advanced.”

But Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), an Army veteran and House Armed Services Committee member, said the country is “about to do what we always do after wars end” — mistakenly slash defense funding. 

“We need a steady state defense budget,” West said, adding that budgetary “peaks and valleys” make it tough to maintain a lethal military that is feared by potential foes.

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