By Wade Rawlins
DURHAM, North Carolina (Reuters) - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Thursday that military leaders supported the reshaping of America's military with a smaller force and did not feel victimized by it.
"We the military are not being victimized by this budget issue," Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin E. Dempsey said in an hour-long lecture at Duke University. "This is something we the Joint Chiefs have endorsed as best for America."
Dempsey's speech marked the top military officer's first extended remarks since President Barack Obama outlined a strategy to reshape the U.S. military after a decade of war.
Obama has said the time was ripe to transition to a leaner, more agile, technologically advanced military with operations in Iraq at an end and the war in Afghanistan winding down.
Dempsey said the biggest risks of reducing the size of the U.S. military may be in the military's response time and capacity to sustain a prolonged conflict.
"It might take us longer to flow to a fight and end a fight," Dempsey said.
The strategy outlined by Obama with input from Dempsey and other military leaders calls for a smaller force as the United States cuts $487 billion in projected defense spending over the next decade in an effort to deal with the nation's $14 trillion debt.
The new strategy, meant to identify spending priorities as the military cuts back, calls for greater emphasis on Asia even as the Army and Marines shrink to become smaller and more agile forces.
Dempsey said for decades that the military had held the view that it needed the capacity to fight two nearly simultaneous ground wars at once. "We (have) taken that language out," Dempsey said, saying it creating a tyranny of fiscal demands.
The United States is expected to draw down about 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by the summer of 2012, leaving about 65,000 American forces in Afghanistan.
The strategy will be used to shape the proposed federal budget that Obama will submit to Congress in February, and represents a reduction in defense spending comparable to the drawdown after Vietnam and the end of the Cold War, administration officials said.
The strategy calls for maintaining a global military presence with an emphasis on the Asia-Pacific and Middle East, according to the blueprint outlining military defense priorities in the 21st century.
"Demographically and economically, the world is shifting toward the Pacific," Dempsey said.
(Editing By Cynthia Johnston)