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Army to Hit Pre-World War II Troop Levels; Defense Secretary to Speak Soon; Arrest Warrant for Former Ukrainian President; Venezuela Streets Filled with Protests; Army Cutbacks; Uganda Anti-Gay Bill

Aired February 24, 2014 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, shrinking the U.S. Army down to pre-World War II size. Any minute now, the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, will roll out the Pentagon's plan to make that happen. We'll bring you the announcement live. We'll talk about what it means for U.S. national security.

Also right now, the streets are calmer. The ex-president is on the run but Ukraine's future is full of questions. I'll speak with the U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine about what comes next. That's coming up this hour, as well.

And right now, President Obama plays host to the nation's governor. On the agenda, the economy, health care, and just who might take over the White House in the election in 2016.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Washington. We start with big cuts over at the Pentagon. We're awaiting the arrival of the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey. They'll be laying out the details of the new proposed Pentagon budget and the cuts. You're looking at live pictures from the briefing room over there at the Pentagon. Once they come in, we'll go there. We'll hear what Chuck Hagel has to say.

The "New York Times" is reporting that under this new proposed budget, the U.S. Army will be cut to a level not seen since before World War II. That means a drop to around 450,000 active duty soldiers. But the new budget is also expected to protect critical programs like cyber warfare. The old strategy was to have enough military strength to fight two ground wars simultaneously. That's changed with new directives and now with a projected smaller fighting force. Let's discuss what's going on as we await the defense secretary. Joining us, General George Joulwan, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander. I assume you think this is smart for Hagel to be making these cuts.

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN, RETIRED NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER, U.S. ARMY: I think it's necessary. Whether it's smart or not is yet to be seen. But I think it's necessary to do, given the constraints that we face fiscally within the United States. How they're cut is going to be important. That's why what's going to be said here is also extremely important. What are the risks involved? How much risk are we willing to take? And can we, with this strategy, deter war as well as fight it?

BLITZER: Well, we're talking, basically, about reducing active duty U.S. Army personnel by 30,000, 40,000, 50,000 over the next few years. But if you take a look, we had up to 200,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. They are all gone. We had 150,000, 180,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. By the end of this year, they will be gone. We don't need that huge U.S. Army contingent, given the fact that there are no more ground wars and none in the foreseeable future that we envision.

JOULWAN: You're correct. And how deep do we go? I remember after the cold war, when I was a (INAUDIBLE) commander, we went from 350,000 troops in Europe to, in three years, less than 100,000 troops. So, we've taken these cuts after every war, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Cold War. After Iraq and Afghanistan, we're going to see the same cuts. It's to do what is going to be the (INAUDIBLE.)

BLITZER: Well, first of all, to save money, that's the -- given the budget problems across the board, you know, you want to -- if you don't need it for the military, you can build housing, infrastructure, education, help people. That's an -- or cut the deficit, if you will. That's pretty significant in and of itself.

JOULWAN: But the issue is, you have to then be very cautious about how you engage. What's going to happen in the Middle East? What's going to happen in Africa? I remember fighting five simultaneous -- lesser (INAUDIBLE) contingencies simultaneously.

BLITZER: When you were in the NATO Supreme Allied Commander?

JOULWAN: And European commander. So, I --

BLITZER: That was really at the height of the cold war when there were a lot of tensions all over the region, all over the world.

JOULWAN: That was after the cold war, and that's when we took these dramatic cuts from our structure then.

BLITZER: Here's what bothers me and you tell me if it bothers you. If you take a look at how much we, the United States of America, spend on defense spending every year and you add up the next 12 countries, including Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, France, Britain, Canada, all of whom together we spend more than the next 12 combined, why do American taxpayers need to carry that kind of burden and let the other NATO allies, the other allies, basically come off cheap?

JOULWAN: I think it's important for our allies to do more. I really think what we need to understand, what are our national interests, our strategic interests in the world, and what do we need to protect those interests? I'm all for saving money. I'm all for saying that we are -- we may have -- spend more than any other nation.

BLITZER: The next 12 nations combined.

JOULWAN: Well, but how do we get NATO to do more? How do we get other nations? You know, nearly 40 nations have joined us in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over 35 nations joined me in Bosnia. And so, we are in a world where I think we're getting cooperation from other nations. We just want to protect our troops more so we give them armored protective space. We give them the best equipment. We give them the best -- and we take care of them if they get hurt.

BLITZER: I want to keep you because we're still waiting for the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, to speak. We'll hear what he has to say and then continue this conversation. But a lot of those nations sense symbolic forces, there are a couple -- maybe a couple hundred, 30 or 40. We had a nice number, 30 or 40. But let's be honest, a lot of that participation was token.

JOULWAN: I don't want to disagree. However, I would tell you, in Bosnia, the Norwegians sent me a battalion troops. Let's say 500 or 600, 700 troops. Out of a population of about 4 million, that, to them, is an important commitment. And other nations have sent units to -- and that -- the cost to them --

BLITZER: I'm not complaining about the Norwegians. But in some of those countries, and you know which ones I'm talking about, they send a dozen, two dozen, they say they're participating. It's not really serious. But (INAUDIBLE) --

JOULWAN: We need to have leadership --

BLITZER: Right.

JOULWAN: -- to do this.

BLITZER: I'm not disagree with you. And we're going to continue this conversation because, obviously, there's a lot at stake. Stand by. General George Joulwan is here with me, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander.

Let's get to some other news as we await Chuck Hagel making this announcement. There are now warnings from both east and west over Ukraine. Russia says they aren't convinced that the new government is legitimate while the U.S. is saying this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: It's not in the interests of Ukraine or of Russia or of Europe or the United States to see the country split. It's in nobody's interest to see violence return and the situation escalate. There is not an inherent contradiction, David, between a Ukraine that has longstanding historic and cultural ties to Russia and a modern Ukraine that wants to integrate more closely with Europe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That's the president's national security adviser, Susan Rice. She also said Russia putting boots on the ground, if they were to do so, would be a grave mistake. Her words.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, a warrant has now been issued for the arrest of the now former president, Yanukovych, in connection to the killing of dozens of protesters last week. But Yanukovych is missing.

Joining us now live from Kiev is our own Correspondent Phil Black. So, where do they think the former president is hiding out right now, Phil?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the acting interior minister of Ukraine says that as recently as last night, he was in the east. The area that is his political heartland at a private residence. They say he called together his security detail and asked them, who wants to stay? Who wants to go? And at least some of them left. He has since then, we are told, traveled south, into a region known as the crimere (ph). It is heavily influenced by Russia, not least (ph) because it's a very big naval base down that way.

You mentioned there is an arrest warrant for him. That's because this new government here in Kiev is investigating what it says was mass murder committed on the streets of the capital last week. That was last week when Yanukovych was president. Now, he is very much a fugitive in his own country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there a real fear there, Phil, that Russia, seeing what's happening in his next door neighbor, might intervene militarily?

BLACK: I don't think it's considered an imminent threat, Wolf. But you mentioned Russia's concern and that is very much a factor. They've said they don't like what's happening here, don't like the parliament, the laws, the new government, the people who are part of it. It says that some of them are Nazis.

But, crucially, it says what it's really concerned about are the rights of Russians in Ukraine. These are people in the east of the country who have strong cultural, ethnic ties to Russia. If there is an issue that could potentially provoke Russia to increase the way in which it is -- could possibly intervene in this country, it could be the possibility of ethnic Russians, perhaps some of them even with Russian passports and citizenships, calling out to Moscow for help because they don't like what the new central government in Kiev is doing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Just to be precise, Phil, who is calling whom Nazis in this -- in this -- in this confrontation?

BLACK: So, it is -- the Russians believe that some of the people that have been part of the revolution on the streets behind me that are making up part of the seats in parliament, potentially even part of the new government what they say ultra-nationalists, super right wing. They've even used the expression neo-Nazis. There is certainly one of the major opposition parties, it's svoboda. It is a nationalist party. But I know that they would certainly dispute any sort of allegation that would express that they are to that extent on the rise. They would certainly reject any allegation of being neo-Nazi -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Phil Black on the scene for us in Kiev. An important story. Lots at stake for the United States, indeed, Europe, and, indeed, the whole world.

Coming up at the bottom of the hour, I'll speak live with the U.S. ambassador in Ukraine. He's in Kiev. He'll join us. I'll ask him about this potential threat, let's hope it doesn't exist, of a Russian military involvement in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the crisis continues to escalate in Venezuela right now with barricades of burning trash in the streets and protesters for and against the government showing no sign of backing down. There are fears now more violence could break out ahead of possible peace talks later this week. According to the "New York Times," officials say at least 13 people have died in nearly three weeks of anti-government protests. We'll stay on top of the situation in Venezuela.

We're waiting for the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, to come to the microphone. As soon as he does -- there you see live pictures from the briefing room over at the Department of Defense. We'll go there live. What's going on with the U.S. military? We'll hear from Hagel.

Also, the nation's governors are in the capital right now. The president pushing his agenda. But will they fall in line? An analysis, that's coming up.

And we'll also find out why a new deal between Netflix and Comcast could change your movie-watching experience.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right, we're told that the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, will be walking into the press briefing room within the next few seconds, making this dramatic announcement of a serious cut in the U.S. Army, serious cut in fighter jets, other equipment, moving towards some new high technology weaponry that can reduce manpower, if you will. The U.S. Army will go down to a size that it hasn't seen since before World War II. This as a result of the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq. At the high point, there were almost 200,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Will go down to a size that it hasn't seen since before World War II. This as a result of the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq. At the high point, there were almost 200,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. And almost all of the U.S. troops from Afghanistan right now, about 30,000 or 40,000 are still there, but all of them are supposed to be out by the end of this year. There's a debate underway now between the U.S. and the Afghan government, how many will remain, if, in fact, any will remain after U.S. troops are out by the end of this year. As we await the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, the retired U.S. NATO supreme allied commander, General George Joulwan is watching and listening to what's going on.

Quickly on Afghanistan. You know, the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai, who's getting ready to leave office -

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN, FMR. NATO SUPREME ALLIED CMDR.: Yes.

BLITZER: They don't want to sign this agreement that will allow any U.S. troops to stay, have immunity from their prosecution or whatever. They're putting all sorts of demands, release terror suspects from Guantanamo. This is a big problem right now. I don't know how you feel about keeping any troops in Afghanistan after the end of this year.

JOULWAN: I would keep as few as possible.

BLITZER: Three -- you like that 3,000 number?

JOULWAN: Three thousand, maybe. But to do what, is the issue.

BLITZER: To train the Afghan military.

JOULWAN: Train the Afghan. But I also think we don't want Afghan to become a training ground for terrorists again. But that could be done off shore.

BLITZER: They've had 12 years.

JOULWAN: Yes.

BLITZER: They've got 300,000 of their own troops. Why can't they do it themselves, if this is a legitimate military and a legitimate government?

JOULWAN: You know we -- we did that in Iraq. We pulled out of Iraq. I did a study for Congress and said that they can take over. And they did. And I think the Afghans should be able to do the same thing. It should not take U.S. forces in a combat role to be able to do that. I think the sooner we can pull those forces out, the better.

BLITZER: All right. So we're going to wait -- they're obviously running a little bit late over there at the Pentagon. We'll stand by to hear from Chuck Hagel.

But there's other news we're watching right now, including this, the White House says Uganda took a step backwards today with their controversial anti-gay law criminalizing homosexuality with harsh penalties, including life in prison. In a statement they reiterated - the president - the White House reiterated President Obama's belief that this law in Uganda is, quote, "more than an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda. It reflects poorly on the country's commitment to protecting the human rights of its people." But officials cheered when the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, signed the bill this morning, who then told CNN he finds homosexuals, and I'm quoting this Ugandan president, "disgusting." Arwa Damon has more from Kampala.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The 2010 tabloid banner read "Hang Them." David Kato told CNN then, he knew he was in danger.

DAVID KATO, GAY UGANDAN: (INAUDIBLE). So the (INAUDIBLE), the military is going to set my house ablaze. They want to burn my house.

DAMON: Homophobia in this deeply conservative Christian nation is rabid. David's mother says she didn't know he was gay until he was murdered.

"I would condemn him," she responds. "I would hate him. But I would counsel him."

She too stigmatized by his sexuality and did not want us to visit her at home.

"The community keeps accusing me that I bring whites to promote homosexuality among the children," she tells us.

The irony, gay rights activists say, is that it was a small group of American evangelicals who came to Uganda speaking out against homosexuality, which was already illegal, that really took the persecution of the LGBT community to a new level.

JACQUELINE KASHA NABAGESERA, FOUNDER, FREEDOM AND ROAM UGANDA: Some friends --

DAMON: Kasha Nabagesera is one of the few gay activists to speak out in public.

NABAGESERA: So they went to parliament and advised them to change the law. They went to universities and told students that we are recruiting them, into homosexuality, that we have a lot of money. That they should be careful. Then they went to parents and told them that we are recruiting their children.

DAMON: The first draft of an anti-homosexuality bill, she recalls, introduced in 2009, included the death penalty. The new version replaces the death penalty for certain homosexual acts with life in prison and makes simply being viewed as promoting homosexuality a crime that could land someone in jail.

DAVID BAHATI, ARCHITECT OF UGANDAN ANTI-GAY BILL: Now, parliament processes all these amendments.

DAMON: David Bahati is the architect.

DAMON (on camera): So is your aim to eradicate homosexuality completely by forcing people to stay silent or face a prison sentence?

BAHATI: Well, the aim is to make sure that we do protect the institution of marriage and that stopping the promotion of homosexuality in our country. If in the process that is achieved, that will be good for our society.

DAMON: That homosexuality be eradicated from society?

BAHATI: That would be good for our society.

DAMON: Do you respect other religious, an individuals' right to practice another religion other than Christianity? DAHATI: Yes.

DAMON: So why can't you respect another individual's differing sexual orientation?

DAHATI: Well, I don't think that homosexuality is a human right.

DAMON (voice-over): Now the LGBT community fears it will become the target of an even broader witch hunt.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Kampala.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: We just received a very strong statement from the secretary of state (ph), John Kerry, also condemning what's going on in Uganda. "This is a tragic day for Uganda," Kerry says, "and for all who care about the cause of human rights. Ultimately, the only answer is repeal of this law."

Chuck Hagel, we're told, is now walking into the press briefing room over at the Pentagon, together with other aides, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He's going to be walking in momentarily. You know what, let's take a quick break. We'll await the secretary of defense and his announcement right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right, the defense secretary is just beginning his remarks. Let's listen in. Chuck Hagel, joined by other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Our chiefs, our secretaries, who are here, as well as our comptroller and our acting assistant, or deputy secretary of defense, Christine Fox, for the work that they have put in over the last few months, in particular to get us to this point, where we have a budget that we are going to present to Congress next week. I want to talk a little bit about that today. Chairman Dempsey will also add his remarks. But I am very grateful. I know President Obama is very grateful to these men and women who have spent an awful lot of time, and the people that they represent and their services in putting this together.

I particularly want to note that the comptroller, Bob Hale, this will be his last budget, unless we call him back into duty after he goes to find an island somewhere and doesn't return calls. But I am particularly appreciative of his willingness to stay through this budget, which was not an easy task for Bob Hale. You all know the kind of service he's given this country in this department for many, many years. And to Bob Hale, thank you, and to all of your team down there, we are grateful.

Today I'm announcing the key decisions that I have recommended to the president for the Defense Department's fiscal year 2015 budget and beyond. These recommendations will adapt and reshape our defense enterprise so that we can continue to protecting this nation's security in an era of unprecedented uncertainty and change. As we end our combat mission in Afghanistan, this will be the first budget to fully reflect the transition DOD is making for after 13 years of war, the longest conflict in our nation's history.

We are repositioning to focus on the strategic challenges and opportunities that will define our future. New technologies, new centers of power and a world that is growing more volatile, more unpredictable, and in some instances more threatening to the United States. The choices ahead will define our defense institutions for the years to come. Chairman Dempsey and I worked in a pragmatic and collaborative way to build a balanced force our nation must have for the future. I worked closely with the chairman, the vice chairman, service secretaries and service chiefs in developing these recommendations in a process that began with last summer's strategic choices and management review.

I also want to recognize today the senior enlisted leaders in each of the services for their contributions and their involvement and their leadership and what they continue to do every day for our country. But, in particular, their help and input in crafting this budget.

Our recommendations were guided by an updated defense strategy that builds on the president's 2012 defense strategic guidance. As described in the upcoming quadrennial defense review report, this defense strategy is focused on defending the homeland against all strategic threats, building security globally by projecting U.S. influence and deterring aggression, and remaining prepared to win decisively against any adversary, should deterrent's fail.

To fulfill this strategy, DOD will continue to shift its operational focus and focuses to the Asia Pacific, sustained commitments to key allies and partners in the Middle East and Europe, maintain engagement in other regions and continue to aggressively pursue global terrorist networks. Our reviews made two new realities very clear. First, the development and proliferation of more advanced military technologies by other nations. It means that we are entering an era where American dominance on the seas, in the skies and in space can no longer be taken for granted.

Second, defense spending is not expected to reach the levels projected in the five-year budget plan submitted by the president last year. Given these realities, we must now adapt, innovate and make difficult decisions to ensure that our military remains ready and capable, maintaining its technological edge over all potential adversaries.

However, as a consequence of large budget cuts, our future force will assume additional risks in certain areas. In crafting this package, we prioritized DOD's strategic interests and matched them to budget resources. This required a series of difficult choices. We chose further reductions in troop strength and force structure in every military service, active and reserve, in order to sustain our readiness and technological superiority, and to protect critical capabilities, like special operations forces and cyber resources. We chose to terminate or delay some modernization programs to protect higher priorities and procurement, research and development. And we chose to slow the growth of military compensation costs in ways that will preserve the quality of the all-volunteer force, but also free up critical funds needed for sustaining training readiness and modernization.

Before describing our specific recommendations, let me address the fiscal realities and assumptions behind our decision-making. On March 1st, 2013 --

BLITZER: And so now the defense secretary is going to get into some of the financial aspects of this strategy that he just unveiled, the dramatic shift in some long-standing U.S. policies.

Let's assess what we just heard from the defense secretary. General George Joulwan, retired former NATO supreme allied commander, is here.

You know, what jumped out at me, general, is this - is this notion that all of a sudden now -- and we've been seeing this in the works now for the last several months, the U.S. will shift its operational focus towards Asia and Pacific, away, in effect, from Europe and the Middle East. You - we've been hearing hints of this, but now the defense secretary is saying, there's real, strategic interest in China, Korea, Japan, Australia, out there, less so in the Middle East and in Europe. How is this going to play with our allies?

JOULWAN: Particularly in Europe, I think there's going to be concern. Believe it or not, I went through this when I went over there in 1993. I was told then we're going to the Pacific Rim. But all the challenges we faced were in Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East. So I think we have to be flexible here. I think it's important, what we try to do in the Pacific, but we cannot lose sight of our allies and friends that we've been with for so long in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere.

BLITZER: I know the president is going to Saudi Arabia next month. The Saudis are pretty nervous right now about what's going on in their part of the world. This interim agreement with Iran, for example, they're not very happy about it. The Emirates, some of the other countries in the region -- the Israelis certainly aren't thrilled by what's going on. They're pretty nervous. The prime minister of Israel will be in Washington next week to meet with the president, Benjamin Netanyahu. So how do you think they're going to react to this new strategic announcement?

JOULWAN: It's a -- I think we're not going to lose our focus on what our friends in Europe and the Middle East were. That's not going to happen.