GOP presidential candidate John McCain, asserting that political leaders in both parties have failed the military, promised today to modernize American forces, raise military pay, cut Pentagon waste and get tough with rogue states, which he called the world's "main threat to peace and freedom."
Here in New Hampshire and in New York City, the Arizona senator marked the 58th anniversary of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor by outlining the defense policy he will pursue if he becomes president.
McCain's speech was the second in a series of policy addresses he hopes to give before the end of the year as he tries to build beyond his image as a maverick reformer and maintain his momentum here until the Feb. 1 primary.
A new poll today showed him inching ahead of Texas Gov. George W. Bush in this state, although the margin of error means the two are in a dead heat. The Reuters/WNDH poll showed McCain at 35 percent, Bush at 32 percent, publisher Steve Forbes at 12 percent and the other GOP candidates in single digits.
McCain called for major changes in the structure of the military. "It's time to end the disingenuous practice of stating that we have a two-war strategy when we are paying for only a one-war military," he said. "Either we must change our strategy--and accept the risks--or we must properly fund and structure our military."
McCain said he could pay for his plan largely with $20 billion in cuts in wasteful or unnecessary military spending. He called for the elimination of such big-ticket weapons systems as the B2 bomber, Seawolf submarine and C-130 transport. He said he would close more bases and make greater use of private contractors.
But his speech lacked specific budgetary numbers. His campaign advisers promised more detailed cost estimates soon.
The former Vietnam prisoner of war called current treatment of military personnel "a stain upon the nation's honor." He promised to end "the food stamp Army" and close the gap between military and civilian salaries by raising military pay 3 percent per year for three years, above the 4.8 percent pay raise Congress approved this year. He also said he would exempt from U.S. income taxes military personnel serving overseas.
The pay raise would cost $4.3 billion over three years, and the tax exemption would cost $800 million annually.
The post-Cold War world harbors new threats, McCain said. He cited ethnic and nationalistic rivalries, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, cyber-warfare and terrorism.
"Rogue states are the main threat to peace and freedom," he said, "and they require a strong, comprehensive policy response," which he called "rogue state rollback."
That effort would include diplomacy, economic sanctions, efforts to aid opposition forces and, if necessary, U.S. military involvement. "We must be prepared to back up these measures with American military force when the continued existence of such rogue states threatens America's interests and values," he said.
McCain, like Bush, said he would make missile defense systems a "national priority." If he could not renegotiate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, he said, he would abrogate it to "do what is right" for U.S. security.
The nation lacks the kind of modern defense system it needs to meet coming threats, McCain said. He pledged to make U.S. forces lighter, more flexible and more easily deployed.
CAPTION: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) waits to address the Concord (N.H.) Rotary Club yesterday. At left is the organization's president, Virginia Phipps.