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Obama defense shift lauded

By Ned Seaton

An expert on U.S. defense policy said Thursday that the country’s new defense strategy, announced in January by President Obama, is the “most coherent, expert…thoughtful, and carefully structured” plan that he’s ever seen put together.

Frank G. Klotz, a retired lieutenant general from the Air Force and currently a senior fellow in strategic studies and arms control at the Council on Foreign Relations, said in an interview with The Mercury that he is impressed by both the substance of the new strategy and the process by which it was developed. Klotz was on active duty in the military for 38 years.

The new strategy for the U.S. military recognizes a “key inflection point” in which the nation is coming off a decade at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also a budget crunch brought on by deficits and debt, Klotz said. Those realities — that crisis —is what created the opportunity for military and civilian leaders to “think very long and very hard to frame a fundamental rethinking of strategy,” Klotz said.

Klotz said in both Obama’s January statement and in his budget for the next fiscal year, the outlines of that new strategy are coming into focus. Fundamentally, it involves refocusing on Asia and the Pacific — reflecting China’s growing power — and the Middle East. That would shift resources away from Europe, which Klotz said has become now a “producer of security” rather than a consumer.

The new strategy recognizes that future conflicts will probably involve areas where there’s more robust air and ground defenses than we’ve faced in Afghanistan or Iraq, Klotz said. The strategy emphasizes not getting involved in prolonged ground engagements, focusing instead on counterterrorism. It also recognizes that things could change dramatically for the better or worse fairly quickly.

Meanwhile, the size of the Army is to be cut by 80,000 and the Marine Corps by 20,000, under that plan. Klotz did not express any particular knowledge about the likelihood of major changes at Fort Riley under that plan; he did note that the president’s budget sought authority to conduct two more rounds of base realignments and closures.

Klotz noted that all the major military leaders stood behind Obama during the announcement of this strategy, and he said their support has appeared to be genuine and consistent. He noted that during testimony in front of Congress, the messages from military leaders have consistently been supportive.

Klotz was in Manhattan to speak in a lecture series at Kansas State University coordinated by Political Science Prof. Dale Herspring.

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