WASHINGTON – While headline claims of a Cold War resurgence are surely overstated, Russia’s aggression in Ukraine reminds Pentagon policymakers that their plans to shift U.S. military focus away from Europe may have to be tweaked.
Also subject to modification is the ongoing “Asia-Pacific pivot” to respond to China’s growing military power.
Previously announced Pentagon spending cuts will still be included in the budget President Obama sends Congress today.
But they now face an even harder sell on Capitol Hill, where home-state interests and election-year politics often prevail along with a bipartisan predilection for bombast.
Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, blamed Obama for having already cut projected Pentagon funding by $487 billion over 10 years.
“His disarming of America over the past five years limits our options in Ukraine today,” Inhofe said in a statement Monday.
Congress, however, has played a significant role in reducing defense spending from its 2011 peak of $739 billion, a decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, to its current annual level of $613 billion.
The military funding cuts from Obama and lawmakers have come in response to rising federal debt, the end of American combat engagement in Iraq and the wind-down of the nation’s involvement in Afghanistan.
The budget Obama will send Congress today, in fact, seeks to restore $26 billion in deeper Pentagon spending reductions that Congress approved in a December deal by large bipartisan majorities, according to a briefing last week by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
That budget accord, which funds the federal government through September 2015, replaced even steeper military funding decreases that lawmakers had imposed through a system of forced cuts called sequestration.
After more than 12 years of war, Americans are divided over how much money the Pentagon should get from Congress.
Thirty-seven percent of Americans say the United States spends too much on defense, 28 percent believe it spends too little and 35 percent think current levels are about right, according to a Gallup poll released last week.
Defense analysts Monday described as extremely unlikely a direct U.S. military response to Russia’s effective takeover of the Crimean Peninsula.
But the Russian takeover of the Crimean Peninsula could make U.S. leaders more open to some allies’ complaints that Iraq, Afghanistan and other anti-terrorist initiatives have shifted American attention too much away from Europe, the original focus of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization formed in 1949 after World War II.