Obama, Romney exchange blows over military

Hayley Peterson


President Obama's re-election campaign on Thursday cast his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, as naive and inexperienced on national security matters even as Romney was accusing Obama of weakening the U.S. military through "massive" defense cuts.

"When it comes to foreign policy, Mitt Romney keeps getting it wrong," said Robert Diamond, an Iraq War veteran in charge of Obama's outreach efforts to veterans and military families.

Diamond asserts that Romney would cut funding for veterans' health care and accused the former Massachusetts governor of being out of touch with the military's missions and needs.

"He can listen to advisers that think that the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia are still around," he said. "When it comes to honoring our veterans, leading our troops, and weighing foreign policy decisions, Mitt Romney is hopelessly out of touch with reality."

Even as Obama's campaign targets Romney's lack of national security credentials, Romney is stepping up his own attacks on Obama's plans to downsize the post-war military by $487 billion over the next five years.

Obama's proposal would shrink the Army and Marine Corps by about 14 percent, close several domestic bases, slash spending on new weapon programs and reduce Navy shipbuilding.

Romney said such cuts would substantially weaken the nation's defenses and leave the United States vulnerable to future threats. He pledged to nearly double naval shipbuilding.

"America must have a military so strong no one would ever think of testing it," Romney said at a campaign stop in Jacksonville, Fla., Thursday. "So rather than cut back on the number of ships we buy per year as the president would ... I'd go from the nine we're planning on building to 17 a year."

Romney has also promised to increase the Air Force and add about 100,000 active-duty personnel.

House Republicans, echoing Romney's calls, pressed ahead Thursday with debate on a bill that would restore many of the cuts Obama has proposed.

The Republican budget "helps ensure the Pentagon's new national security defense strategy is not a hollow one," said Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. "And, despite historic cuts to our wartime military, it plugs critical capability and strategic shortfalls opened in the president's budget submission."

White House officials point out that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta strongly supports Obama's proposed defense cuts, which the administration said are necessary at a time of soaring federal budget deficits and possible as the U.S. winds down military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"The plan is aligned to strategic priorities we have identified to keep America safe and maintain the strongest military in the world," Panetta said of Obama's proposal.

And while Obama's budget would cut overall military spending, it would increase the Department of Veterans Affairs budget by nearly 11 percent. That increase is needed as thousands of troops return home from overseas deployment, Obama campaign officials said.

"It really seems like Romney just doesn't care about our veterans' community," Diamond said.

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