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The Obama administration has unveiled a new military strategy billed as a move toward a leaner, streamlined global U.S. force. In “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” the United States vows a stepped-up focus on the Asia-Pacific region, as well as the increased use of drone strikes that have targeted militants in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and the Horn of Africa. The plan also touts a reduction in military spending, but only when compared to previous increases. Unveiling the plan at the Pentagon, President Obama said military spending would exceed its levels at the end of President George W. Bush’s second term.
President Obama: “We will be strengthening our presence in the Asia Pacific, and budget reductions will not come at the expense of that critical region. We’re going to continue investing in our critical partnerships and alliances, including NATO, which has demonstrated time and again, most recently in Libya, that it’s a force multiplier. We will stay vigilant, especially in the Middle East. I think it’s important for all Americans to remember, over the past 10 years, since 9/11, our defense budget grew at an extraordinary pace. Over the next 10 years, the growth in the defense budget will slow, but the fact of the matter is this: It will still grow, because we have global responsibilities that demand our leadership. In fact, the defense budget will still be larger than it was toward the end of the Bush administration.”
The military spending reductions are said to amount to a 4 percent decline in inflation-adjusted terms. The spending figure also excludes the billions spent on the U.S. war in Afghanistan and ongoing operations in Iraq. On nuclear weapons, the strategy says the U.S. arsenal could be reduced, but fails to offer specifics, saying, “It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force.”
Obama unveiled a new military strategy with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. In a provocative comment, Panetta invoked the ongoing dispute with Iran over the Straight of Hormuz in discussing the prospect of military action abroad.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta: “The nature of warfare today is that as you—as you engage, you have to look at how you do it, what forces do you use to be able to confront that enemy, what exactly is involved. I mean, the reality is, you could face a land war in Korea and at the same time face threats in the Straights of Hormuz. We have the capability, with this joint force, to deal with those kinds of threats, to be able to confront them, and to be able to win. That’s what counts.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is calling on the United States to immediately hand over control of its military prison at Bagram Air Base. Karzai says he took action based on evidence of massive violations of prisoners’ human rights. Both the United States and Afghan government have faced criticism for the torture of prisoners and their detention without trial at prisons in Afghanistan.
The Republican presidential juggernaut has swept into New Hampshire ahead of Tuesday’s primary. On Thursday, the winner of the Iowa caucus, Mitt Romney, and his second-place challenger, Rick Santorum, both took aim at President Obama.
Mitt Romney: “This president is a crony capitalist. He’s a job killer. And it’s going to keep America from creating the jobs we need, for our kids and our grandkids. You know, he said he wanted to create green jobs. I don’t think we understood. He wants to give jobs to the people who gave him the green.”
Rick Santorum: “I don’t think most Americans share the vision that President Obama is selling. That’s why he’s not—that’s why it’s not succeeding. When he goes around and tries to divide America and aligns himself with Occupy Wall Street, says, you know, that they’re—you know, that this dividing of America, 99-1—you know it’s not 99-1. It’s anybody that makes money and pays taxes and everybody who doesn’t. That’s the 99-1.”
Presidential contender Rick Santorum continues to face questions over his views on same-sex marriage. At a campaign event with college students Thursday night, Santorum was booed after he compared same-sex marriage to polygamy.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is hoping to revive his campaign following a fourth-place finish in Iowa. On Thursday, Gingrich criticized Obama’s recess appointments of three new members for the National Labor Relations Board in defiance of Republican opposition. Gingrich called for de-funding the board entirely.
Newt Gingrich: “The answer to an imperial president is a Congress which stands on its own rights. And the correct response to what the President just did will be for the Congress to zero out and refuse to fund the National Labor Relations Board.”
The new head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has begun his term following his recess appointment by President Obama. Former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray was installed as the bureau’s first director after Republicans refused to confirm his nomination. Kicking off his mandate, Cordray delivered a speech vowing to protect Americans from predatory lending and other unfair consumer practices.
Richard Cordray: “Consumers deserve to have someone who will stand on their side, who will protect them against fraud, and who will ensure that they’re treated fairly in the financial marketplace. The new consumer bureau was created to make sure these things are achieved for all Americans.”
In Iraq, the death toll from Thursday’s wave of bombings targeting Shia pilgrims has reached 70 people. More attacks targeting Shias were reported in Baghdad today, with at least two dead and 20 wounded.
At least 10 people have been killed and dozens wounded in a suicide bombing in the Syrian capital of Damascus. The attack comes two weeks after at least 44 people died in a similar bombing, also in the capital. It also comes ahead of mass demonstrations scheduled for today to protest the failure of Arab League monitors to stem the Assad regime’s crackdown. At a meeting Thursday in Cairo, Jeffrey Feltman, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, said the world is awaiting a final report from the Arab League on the monitors’ findings.
Jeffrey Feltman: “We are all waiting to see what it is that the Arab League will be saying after their meeting on Sunday and what the interim report is from the monitors here, because the Arab League, as I said before, has taken on an incredibly important responsibility, and we want to defer right now to that meeting on Sunday and let the Arabs have their own discussions first.”
In news from Syria, the human rights group Avaaz says it believes some 37,000 people have been detained in the Assad regime’s crackdown, the highest estimate to date. The group also says at least 617 prisoners have died under torture in government sites since the start of the uprising against the Assad regime.
In Egypt, prosecutors are demanding the death penalty for former president Hosni Mubarak and other defendants, including his two sons. Mubarak is facing charges for allegedly ordering the killing of around 850 protesters during the uprising against his regime. His trial recently resumed after a two-month delay.
A Texas prisoner who served 31 years behind bars for rape has been released after a judge ruled prosecutors withheld evidence that could have led to his acquittal. Rickey Wyatt, a 56-year-old African American, was sentenced to 99 years in prison for a sexual assault in 1980. He had gone to trial after rejecting a plea bargain for a five-year sentence. At the time, Dallas police withheld evidence that the victim in the assault had told them Wyatt was far too small to have been her attacker. The victim had also described the attacker as clean-shaven, whereas Wyatt consistently had facial hair at the time.
A former inspector on the original Keystone pipeline is sounding the alarm over TransCanada’s plans for the Keystone XL. Mike Klink, a former Bechtel employee who surveyed the first Keystone pipeline, says he raised numerous concerns during construction that went ignored. The first Keystone carries tar sands oil from Alberta to refineries in the Midwest, while the XL would extend that route to the Gulf Coast. Writing in Nebraska’s Lincoln Journal Star, Klink describes a number of safety and design flaws, including cheap foreign steel, weak foundations and rigged safety tests. He concludes: “I am coming forward because my kids encouraged me to tell the truth about what was done and covered up… I am not telling you we shouldn’t build pipelines. We just should not build this one.” Klink says Bechtel fired him for voicing his complaints.