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Top 5 changes at the Pentagon under Obama

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Over the past couple weeks some of President Obama’s most fervent fans have openly deserted him – expressing a commonly heard frustration from his liberal base that his popular 2008 campaign slogan “hope and change” hasn’t amounted to much. 

Amber Lee Ettinger, aka the “Obama Girl” -- who gained notoriety through her racy YouTube video revealing her crush for then-Senator Obama -- now won’t even say whom she’s voting for. 

Roberto Unger, one of Obama’s professors at Harvard Law School went a step further, declaring in another YouTube video that his former student “must be defeated in the coming election.” 

Though I understand their disappointment, I’d argue that Obama has in fact boldly changed the country. While it’s true that the president hasn’t come close to achieving his top priority of closing Guantanamo, in all fairness to Mr. Obama, he has ushered in a new era at the Pentagon. 

For example, let’s look at the top 5 changes: 

1. Up to $1 trillion in defense cuts are planned over the next decade 

With the war over in Iraq and winding down in Afghanistan, some downsizing at the Pentagon was to be expected. But it's much more than that. Take the half-a-trillion in programmed defense cuts over the next 10 years, combine this with another half-a-trillion from Obama’s deal with Congress, when the Supercommittee failed to reach agreement on our national debt, and you will see a hollowed out military like the one we saw during the 1970s. 

Even Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, one of most influential Democrats in Washington over the past couple decades, described the Congressional sequestration cuts as, “a gun to their heads and to the heads of the country.” A total of 100,000 ground troops are being eliminated, ship and aircraft numbers are shrinking fast, and new weapons systems are being scrapped or delayed. 

2. National security leaks have skyrocketed 

With America’s most sensitive secrets in cyber-warfare and counter-terrorism now routinely finding their way into breaking news alerts, even White House ally Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) called the leaks the “worst in a long time.” 

From computer attacks on Iran’s nuclear program, to a foiled Al Qaeda plot to take down an airliner with a new and improved underwear bomb worn by a Saudi double agent, to painstaking details on the SEAL team raid that killed Usama Bin Laden, Team Obama has apparently sought to score political points at the expense of protecting the nation’s top covert operations. 

3. The Pentagon is now detainee friendly 

Though Obama couldn’t close Gitmo, the next best thing to that stated purposed was the decision to spend $750,000 in 2012 on a new soccer field for the detainees. 

Meanwhile, within the president's first 48 hours in office, he chose to ban all coercive interrogations – thereby depriving the military and intelligence community of an important tool in preventing potential mass-casualty terrorist attacks. 

Never mind the fact that just a handful of the most dangerous detainees ever underwent any sort of harsh techniques out of the tens of thousands of enemy combatants captured in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the globe -- why let reality get in the way of a good political talking point? 

And what is the president's creative solution to avoid the prospect of coercive interrogations for terror suspects still on the loose? Simple, just kill them all via a drone strike. We've recently learned that even US citizens overseas have been fair game for the “secret kill list.” 

4. Military suicides are at an all time high 

As of early June, there were 154 suicides in the military this year – an astonishing rate of roughly one per day. This staggering figure is on par with the number killed in combat in Afghanistan over the same period. Though some blame multiple deployments, the Pentagon dismisses that idea, noting that almost half of the victims had never been deployed to a combat zone. One message the Pentagon does emphasize is that getting help is a sign of strength, not weakness - while promoting a suicide prevention crisis line of 1-800-273-8255. 

5. Gay pride month is celebrated 

In an amazing first, Obama’s Defense Department will conduct a LGBT Pride Month event on Tuesday, June 26 at the Pentagon Auditorium, with a speech from DoD’s top lawyer Jeh Johnson and a panel discussion entitled, “The Value of Open Service and Diversity.” 

With last year’s repeal of the Clinton-era "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," policy gays can now serve openly in the military. That's a major change at the Pentagon and in our military. 

So my message for Ms. Ettinger, Prof. Unger, and countless other former Obama fans is that contrary to what some say, our current president has in fact changed America. Maybe not in the ways they had hoped, but the country has been transformed nevertheless. 

J.D. Gordon is a retired Navy Commander who served as a Pentagon spokesman in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2005-2009. He is a communications consultant to several Washington, D.C.-based think tanks.

J.D. Gordon is a retired Navy Commander who served as a Pentagon spokesman in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2005-09. He serves as senior adviser to several Washington-based think tanks.