With some important caveats, military analysts broadly agree that President-elect Barack Obama will inherit a U.S. military hobbled by aging weaponry, stretched to the breaking point by more than seven years of conflict, and funded by procurement and operational budgets that exceed even the most optimistic assessments of future military spending. All that was true before the global economic crisis took hold in September 2008. Now, experts suggest, something has to give. Obama made ending the war in Iraq a top priority during his two-year campaign for the presidency. As his own campaign brief on defense (PDF) stresses, Iraq and Afghanistan represent only part of the defense agenda. Challenges loom, including streamlining the Pentagon's budget process, procuring threat-specific weaponry, and weighing cuts to some programs (NYT) to free up discretionary spending for other policy priorities. Meanwhile, within the defense community, debate rages on exactly what kind of missions the U.S. armed forces should prepare for: future asymmetric combat like Iraq and Afghanistan, or more conventional threats arising from a world in which U.S. military primacy begins to slip away.
Obama on the Issues
Both Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden vowed during the campaign to increase the size of the most basic component of the U.S. military: Army and Marine Corps troops. Supporting a plan endorsed by President Bush in 2007, Obama said he would add 65,000 Army soldiers and 27,000 Marines to active duty service. He also promised to "solve recruitment and retention problems" that have emerged since 2001. But doing so will not be cheap, experts say. P. W. Singer of the Brookings Institution says in 2005 the army suffered its worst recruiting year in decades, despite the addition of hundreds of recruiters and a $726 million increase in...