With More Aggressive Russia, Obama Administration Explains Scaling Back Defense

Russia’s impeccable timing for flexing its muscle in Ukraine comes as the Obama administration’s budget proposal for 2015 would scale down parts of the defense budget to pre-World War II levels.

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 04: Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Burwell (C) speaks as White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (L) and Chairman of Council of Economic Advisers Jason Furman (R) listen during a news conference March 4, 2014 at the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC. Burwell held a news conference to discuss the Obama Administration’s FY2015 budget proposal. Alex Wong/Getty Images

But administration officials on Tuesday sought to frame the budget as a show of strength, claiming it’s an increase.

Sylvia Mathews, director of the Office of Management and Budget, explained that Defense Department and other national security spending comes out to an increase of $28 billion.

“Why don’t we all sign off on the president’s budget in terms of getting our defense funding to the higher levels we believe are the appropriate levels,” Burwall told reporters at a budget briefing Tuesday.

She was responding to a question about military cuts in midst of the Ukrainian crisis.

Burwell repeated calls from Hagel and other commanders for greater flexibility in the executive branch.

“Please give us the flexibility to do what we need to do to manage so that we can make sure we modernize our force, we provide the training and the readiness we need, and the third point that they consistently made, please give us the certainty,” Burwell said. She added, “The president’s budget is at higher levels. That’s where we need to go and I’m hopeful that as we said coming back to the question of what would the president’s budget do in influence, we believe these are.”

Russia has moved troops into Crimea, an area of Ukraine where citizens have close ties to Russia, claiming without evidence that Russian natives and citizens are under threat from the new government and at the request of the Ukraine’s ousted President Viktor Yanukovych.

President Barack Obama and most U.S. allies have condemned the Russian action. Secretary of State John Kerry has traveled to Kiev.

“I think everybody recognizes that although Russia has legitimate interests in what happens in a neighboring state, that does not give it the right to use force as a means of exerting influence inside of that state,” Obama said Tuesday.

“We have said that if, in fact, there is any evidence out there that Russian speakers or Russian natives or Russian nationals are in any way being threatened, there are ways of dealing with that through international mechanisms, and we’re prepared to make sure that the rights of all Ukrainians are upheld,” he added.

The chaos comes after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the Army would shrink to pre-World War II levels under the administration’s budget priorities to about 440,000 active duty personnel, drawing strong criticism from many congressional Republicans who said this would harm America’s readiness and unable to carry out a protracted war such as Iraq or Afghanistan.

The proposed budget would also scale back Air Force air crafts, and retiring the U-2 spy planes.

White House press secretary Jay Carney was dismissive of Republicans’ complaints.

“It merits examining the logic of the Republican critique you mentioned which on the one hand says the president is spending too much and on the other hand says the cuts in defense are too deep,” Carney said.