"We are determined to maintain a ready and capable force, even as we reduce our overall capacity," the administration said in a summary of its defense priorities released as the president began to speak. "Our global responsibilities are significant; we cannot afford to fail."
The administration singled out China and Iran, pledging to keep sea lanes open and successfully combat missile, electronic, cyber and other threats.
"Over the long-term China's emergence as a regional power will have the potential to affect the U.S. economy and our security in a variety of ways," the summary noted.
The new strategy is the result of months of study at the Pentagon. It reflects a high-stakes, high-wire balancing act by Obama as he faces a more austere budget climate combined with continued high U.S. responsibilities at home and overseas.
"The balance between available resources and our security needs has never been more delicate," the administration said.
With his announcement at the Pentagon, Obama hopes to reassure the military brass, as well as send a clear message to allies and adversaries that the U.S. maintains its ability, and willingness, to fight.
"The tide of war is receding," Obama said in his prepared remarks. "But the question that this strategy answers is what kind of military will we need after the long wars of the last decade are over. And today, we're moving forward, from a position of strength."
"Yes, our military will be leaner, but the world must know—the United States is going to maintain our military superiority with Armed Forces that are agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats."
Obama's announcement coincides with multiple missile tests by Iran in recent days and comments by Iranian leaders that they could choke off the Strait of Homuz, a major transit point for world oil supplies.
The announcement also comes amidst frequent criticism of the president and his defense priorities from his political rivals, including candidates for the Republican presidential nomination.
In a signed introduction to the new priorities, Obama called this a time of transition, noting the successful raid on the Osama bin Laden compound and the death of the al Qaeda leader, as well as the end to the war in Iraq and progress in Afghanistan.
"The fiscal choices we face are difficult ones, but there should be no doubt, here in the United States or around the world - we will keep our Armed Forces the best-trained, best-led, best equipped fighting force in history," Obama wrote.
"States such as China and Iran will continue to pursue asymmetric means to counter our power projections capabilities, while the proliferation of sophisticated weapons and technology will extend to non-state actors as well," the administration document said.
Titled "Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense," it provides the bare bones of a defense strategy that will become more detailed as the White House and Congress prepare the 2013 budget.
The plan already has run into opposition from Republicans on Capitol Hill and GOP presidential candidates concerned about paring back the military. In addition, conservative defense analysts say the plan steps away from the long-time U.S. commitment to be able to wage two major wars simultaneously.
There is no overt mention in the strategy document, however, that the U.S. is stopping its policy of being ready to fight two-ground wars simultaneously, but the reduced size suggests that is the case.
The Republican Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Thursday that the plan was "a lead from behind strategy for a left-behind America."
"The president has packaged our retreat from the world in the guise of a new strategy to mask his divestment of our military and national defense. This strategy ensures American decline in exchange for more failed domestic programs," Rep. Buck McKeon, R-California, said in a statement Thursday.
"In order to justify massive cuts to our military, he has revoked the guarantee that America will support our allies, defend our interests, and defy our opponents. The president must understand that the world has always had, and will always have a leader. As America steps back, someone else will step forward."
And in a signal of how carefully the administration had orchestrated this announcement in the midst of fiscal austerity as well as a presidential campaign year, the nation's highest ranking military man also threw his weight behind the reforms.
"It is a sound strategy," the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey said in prepared remarks. "It ensures we remain the pre-eminent military in the world. It preserves the talent of the all-volunteer force. It takes into account the lessons of the last ten years of war."
Dempsey referred to the uproar over the change from a two-war policy.
"Our strategy has always been about our ability to respond to global contingencies wherever and whenever they happen. This does not change," Dempsey said. "We can and will always be able to do more than one thing at a time. More importantly, wherever we are confronted and in whatever sequence, we will win."
He said he was pleased with the outcome of the strategy review. "It's not perfect," Dempsey said. "It gives us what we need, in this world and within this budget."
The administration noted the high cost of a decade of wars, with more than 46,000 men and women wounded and more than 6,200 members of the armed forces killed.
In another recognition of hard economic times, the strategy includes a promise to help veterans find work in the civilian economy.
"As the Department reduces the size of the force, we will do so in a way that respects these sacrifices," the administration noted. "This means, among other things, taking concrete steps to facilitate the transition to those who will leave the service. These include supporting programs to help veterans translate their military skills for the civilians workforce and aid their search for jobs."
Defense contractors and civilian workers also will feel the impact of Thursday's announcement and how it ripples through the system of defense contracts in coming years. Boeing has announced that one of its plants, which produces B-52 and 767 tankers in Wichita, Kansas, which now employs more than 2160 workers, will shut.
"The decision to close our Wichita facility was difficult but ultimately was based on a thorough study of the current and future market environment and our ability to remain competitive while meeting our customers' needs with the best and most affordable solutions," said Mark Bass, Boeing vice president said in a press release.
Tags: budget, war, United States, Obama