Bush Defense Cuts Loom

Though President Bush campaigned for election by promising the military "help was on the way" after what he called years of neglect, his administration is now finalizing proposals this week for making big cuts in the armed forces.

Although the proposed cuts are less severe than first suggested, they are the most widespread in years.

The services are still resisting the cuts, but ABCNEWS has learned details about where Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld now appears to be headed.

The Pentagon has been laying the groundwork for these changes by saying it is essential to cut forces if the United States is going to realistically meet overseas commitments.

But as the services themselves fight the proposed cuts, bitter opposition is anticipated on Capitol Hill, even from the president's own party.

"They did take the president as a campaigner at his word that 'help is on the way' and to find out that help is now on the wane is not a good thing for them," said Daniel Goure, senior fellow at the Lexington Institute.

The cuts are needed to pay for the administration's proposed missile defense system, increased readiness and rising costs for military pay and health care. Add to that the cost of advanced new weaponry, such as the Air Force F-22 fighter, a $45 billion program approved for production this week.

With a new strategy that calls for fighting just one major war along with several smaller contingencies — not two wars simultaneously — the administration will argue that a smaller force is more than adequate.

"We already outspend the next eight militaries in the world combined. It's not realistic to expect Bush to put most of the rest of the remaining surplus into a defense buildup," said Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Though Bush came into office promising to help restore the military, economic reality has overtaken campaign rhetoric.

"To keep this military, you'd have to increase the budget by $50 billion each and every year in the future," O'Hanlon said. "There is just no political way that's going to happen. Mr. Bush's tax cut makes it implausible."

The cuts are expected to be finalized by the end of the week, but that may be just the beginning of the fight on all this.

John McWethy and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

Goure, a senior fellow at the public policy think tank, gives his take on the coming defense cuts.

Why cut?

"We don't have enough money. If the force is going to be modernized, if we are going to be able to meet the threats of the 21st century, additional money for new capabilities, and the only place that can come from now because of tax cuts and other issues is from defense force structure."

Campaign promises

"The president did say that he wanted to transform the military, I suspect they are going to argue that by getting smaller they can more rapidly transform which was the ultimate goal."

Transformation "If you are leaping ahead to the kind of capabilities that are going to allow us to perform better and more safely in the 21st century, it means replacing aging tactical fighters such as the F-15 and F-16 with the F-22 and Joint Strike Fighter. It means changing the way the Army does business."

Capitol Hill

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