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The Pentagon
11:00 A.M. EST

Good morning, everybody. The United States of America is the greatest force for freedom and security that the world has ever known. And in no small measure, that's because we've built the best-trained, best-led, best-equipped military in history -- and as Commander-in-Chief, I'm going to keep it that way.

Indeed, all of us on this stage -- every single one of us -- have a profound responsibility to every soldier, sailor, airman, Marine and Coast Guardsman who puts their life on the line for America. We owe them a strategy with well-defined goals; to only send them into harm's way when it's absolutely necessary; to give them the equipment and the support that they need to get the job done; and to care for them and their families when they come home. That is our solemn obligation.

And over the past three years, that's what we've done. We've continued to make historic investments in our military -- our troops and their capabilities, our military families and our veterans. And thanks to their extraordinary service, we've ended our war in Iraq. We've decimated al Qaeda's leadership. We've delivered justice to Osama bin Laden, and we've put that terrorist network on the path to defeat. We've made important progress in Afghanistan, and we've begun to transition so Afghans can assume more responsibility for their own security. We joined allies and partners to protect the Libyan people as they ended the regime of Muammar Qaddafi.

Now we're turning the page on a decade of war. Three years ago, we had some 180,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, we've cut that number in half. And as the transition in Afghanistan continues, more of our troops will continue to come home. More broadly, around the globe we've strengthened alliances, forged new partnerships, and served as a force for universal rights and human dignity.

In short, we've succeeded in defending our nation, taking the fight to our enemies, reducing the number of Americans in harm's way, and we've restored America's global leadership. That makes us safer and it makes us stronger. And that's an achievement that every American -- especially those Americans who are proud to wear the uniform of the United States Armed Forces -- should take great pride in.

This success has brought our nation, once more, to a moment of transition. Even as our troops continue to fight in Afghanistan, the tide of war is receding. Even as our forces prevail in today's missions, we have the opportunity -- and the responsibility -- to look ahead to the force that we are going to need in the future.

At the same time, we have to renew our economic strength here at home, which is the foundation of our strength around the world. And that includes putting our fiscal house in order. To that end, the Budget Control Act passed by Congress last year -- with the support of Republicans and Democrats alike -- mandates reductions in federal spending, including defense spending. I've insisted that we do that responsibly. The security of our nation and the lives of our men and women in uniform depend on it.

That's why I called for this comprehensive defense review -- to clarify our strategic interests in a fast-changing world, and to guide our defense priorities and spending over the coming decade -- because the size and the structure of our military and defense budgets have to be driven by a strategy, not the other way around. Moreover, we have to remember the lessons of history. We can't afford to repeat the mistakes that have been made in the past -- after World War II, after Vietnam -- when our military was left ill prepared for the future. As Commander in Chief, I will not let that happen again. Not on my watch.

We need a start -- we need a smart, strategic set of priorities. The new guidance that the Defense Department is releasing today does just that. I want to thank Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey for their extraordinary leadership during this process. I want to thank the service secretaries and chiefs, the combatant commanders and so many defense leaders -- military and civilian, active, Guard and reserve -- for their contributions. Many of us met repeatedly -- asking tough questions, challenging our own assumptions and making hard choices. And we've come together today around an approach that will keep our nation safe and our military the finest that the world have ever known.