Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) outlined the broad themes of his national defense policy today, vowing to accelerate the development of high-tech weaponry, increase military pay, develop an antimissile defense system and end the "back-to-back" troop deployments around the globe.
The speech at the Citadel, a public military college, was Bush's first foray into the areas of defense and foreign policy--areas where Democratic and Republican critics alike have questioned his credentials.
While Bush only mentioned "the administration" once in his 30-minute speech, he implicitly took dead aim at the White House. He said the Clinton administration had sapped military morale and stretched defense resources with a foreign policy that has placed America in too many regional conflicts without clearly defining national interests.
"If elected, I will set three goals: I will renew the bond of trust between the American president and the American military," Bush said, before a crowd of several hundred cheering, uniformed, students and military officers. "I will defend the American people against missiles and terror. And I will begin creating the military of the next century."
Bush chose to give the speech in South Carolina because it has a large military presence and an early position on next year's primary and caucus calendar.
While Bush has experience in education and social issues as governor of the nation's second-most populous state, he has virtually none in defense or foreign policy, as his opponents have stressed. Bush has relied this year on advice from former advisers to his father, former president George Bush and former president Ronald Reagan. Among them: Condoleezza Rice, Brent Scowcroft, Colin L. Powell, Richard B. Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, George Shultz, Richard L. Armitage and Richard Perle.
The speech was designed to portray Bush as a tough, Reaganesque military hawk who would use the U.S. military's dominance to promote peace around the world. He emphasized more than once that he would not use the military as a permanent peacekeeping force and that countries such as China, Iraq, North Korea should be warned about threatening the United States: "Our first line of defense is a simple message. Every group or nation must know, if they sponsor such attacks, our response will be devastating."
The campaign of Vice President Gore responded before Bush had even delivered his speech. Gore spokesman Chris Lehane, playing off of two well-publicized Bush gaffes, said: "I think Governor Bush's alleged foreign policy and defense expertise begins with Slovenia and ends with Slovakia."
On a more serious note, Lehane alleged that Bush's economic and defense policies would break the bank. Bush proposed committing an extra $20 billion over five years for research and development of new weapons systems. He also said he would earmark 20 percent of the defense procurement budget for "acquisitions programs that propel America generations ahead in military technology." And he said he would push for a $1 billion per year increase in military salaries over the 4.8 percent increase recently approved by Congress.
But Rice, a Stanford University provost who is on leave and serving as Bush's top foreign policy adviser, said during a conference call that the current budget surplus would more than cover the cost of Bush's proposal, plus the proposed GOP tax cuts, with enough money left over to shore up Social Security.
Bush saved some of his harshest criticism of the White House for U.S. troop deployments around the world. "This administration wants things both ways: To command great forces without supporting them," he said. "To launch today's new causes, with little thought of tomorrow's consequences."
One of Bush's ideas that could prove especially controversial--but popular among conservatives--is to unilaterally withdraw from the 1972 antiballistic missile treaty if Russia refuses to amend it to allow the United States to deploy a national missile defense system.
Staff researcher Ben White in Washington contributed to this report.