It’s a privilege to be addressing the veterans who defended our liberty in the past, and who defend the memory and dignity of every veteran today.
I was born in 1947 – a quintessential baby boomer. I grew up in the shadow of World War II, and then came the wars in Korea and Vietnam. As a boy, I knew that it was American soldiers and sailors and Marines and airmen who had saved us from German Fascism, and who protected us from Soviet Communism. You were our heroes then, and you are today.
You know better than most that the world is still infected with purveyors of hate and oppression. Some are jihadists, some are communists, and some are simply tyrants who clothe themselves in any convenient political manifesto. And so once again, American heroes are called upon to defend liberty.
We rightly call our fathers and mothers the Greatest Generation, but every man and woman who has or now defends American liberty – from the beaches of Normandy, to the Mekong Delta, to the valleys of the Hindu Kush – shares in their heritage of greatness. Every veteran is the greatest of his generation.
The quiet heroes who have fought for our country come from the most diverse backgrounds imaginable: from farmers and subway riders, Ph.D.’s and high school graduates, and from every ethnic background of the American melting pot. But they are united by far more than what divides them.
They believe in America. I believe in America. We believe in freedom and opportunity. We believe in the inherent dignity of every human being. We have a deep and abiding faith in the goodness and the greatness of America.
But today we are united not only by our faith in America. We are united also by our concern for America.
25 million Americans are out of work, or have stopped looking, or have only part time jobs but want full-time work. Home values have dropped more than they did during the Depression. National debt is almost as large as our entire economy, and we owe a huge chunk of it to China. Incredibly, unfunded government promises now total about $530,000 per American household. This cannot possibly stand as the legacy we will leave the next generation.
And the peril of this mismanagement may even be more imminent. We stand near a threshold of profound economic misery. Four more years on the same political path could prove disastrous.
I am a conservative businessman. I have spent most of my life outside of politics, dealing with real problems in the real economy. Career politicians got us into this mess and they simply don't know how to get us out!
To win this fight for America's future, we will have to rise above politics. When members of Seal Team Six boarded their helicopters, they did so not as Republicans or Democrats or independents, they did so as Americans. And the final image that Osama bin Laden took with him straight to Hell was not a party symbol – not a Republican elephant or a Democratic donkey – but an American flag on the shoulder of one straight-shooting U.S. Navy Seal.
I start with the fundamental conviction that America is the greatest nation in the history of the world and a force for good. And while we are not perfect, I will not apologize for America!
Our president has taken a different approach. Have we ever had a president who was so eager to address the world with an apology on his lips and doubt in his heart? He seems truly confused not only about America’s past but our future.
So critical was President Obama of America before the United Nations that Fidel Castro complimented him for his “courage” and “brave gesture.” And Venezuelan dictator and thug Hugo Chavez joined in on the praise.
We can’t lead the world by hoping our enemies will hate us less. Ronald Reagan rallied America with “Peace Through Strength.”
American strength is the only guarantee of liberty. American strength turned the Cuban missiles around.
American strength caused the collapse of the Soviet Union. American strength yanked Saddam Hussein out of his spider hole. With freedom as our cause, strength is our only sure defense!
Today, President Obama is on a different course.
First, the White House proposed cutting military spending by $400 billion over the next twelve years. Then, President Obama agreed to a budget process that could entail cutting defense spending by $850 billion.
The incoming Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has called a cut of that magnitude “very high risk.”
Defense Secretary Panetta has warned that it could have “devastating effects on our national defense.” And that’s coming from a guy who works for President Obama.
This is the first time in my memory that massive defense cuts were proposed without any reference to the missions that would be foreclosed and the risks to which our country and its men and women in uniform would be exposed. Cuts of this magnitude can only be the product of one of two mistaken beliefs.
On the one hand is wishful thinking that the world is becoming a safer place. The opposite is true. Consider simply the Jihadists, a near-nuclear Iran, a turbulent Middle East, an unstable Pakistan, a delusional North Korea, an assertive Russia, and an emerging global power called China. No, the world is not becoming safer.
And so, on the other hand, that leaves us with the belief that America should become a lesser power. It flows from the conviction that if we are weak, tyrants will choose to be weak as well; that if we could just talk more, engage more, pass more U.N. resolutions, that peace will break out. That may be what they think in that Harvard faculty lounge, but it’s not what they know on the battlefield!
But American leadership is more than a budget fight. America must lead with clarity of intent, a commitment of purpose and unlimited resolve. Unfortunately, when we look around the world today, we see a muddled picture of American policy and power.
In the Mideast, we are pressuring our closest ally Israel to make concessions while putting almost no pressure on the Palestinians. The administration was quick to criticize Israel but slow to confront Syria’s strongman, Bashar al Assad, even though he facilitated arming Hezbollah, allowed terrorists to cross his border into Iraq to attack U.S. troops, and turned weapons on his own people. Instead of calling Mr. Assad a reformer, the administration should have labeled him a killer.
President Obama’s reticence to criticize Mr. Assad echoes his unwillingness to say a harsh word about the ayatollahs of Iran when they engaged in a bloody crack down on the dissidents who bravely protested the stolen 2009 election. The White House was so tentative in its criticism and so eager to continue its policy of “engagement," that Iranian protesters questioned whether President Obama was with them. What a disgrace.
Now we have an unfolding revolution in Libya. First, President Obama acted as if it were a great surprise that a rebellion erupted, even though The Arab Spring was already in full swing in Tunisia and Egypt. Our involvement in Libya was marked by inadequate clarity of purpose before we began the mission, mission muddle during the operation, and ongoing confusion as to our role in the future.
Today, Qaddafi is on the run and we congratulate the Libyan people and the extraordinary professionalism of our men and women in the armed services. But when a president sends our men and women into harm's way, he must first explain their mission, define its success, plan for their victorious exit, provide them with the best weapons and armor in the world, and properly care for them when they come home! Anything less is not befitting a great nation.
In Afghanistan, the President has chosen to disregard the counsel of the generals on the ground. I don’t know of a single military advisor to President Obama who recommended the withdrawal plan the President chose, and that puts the success of our soldiers and our mission at greater risk.
Across the globe, China is becoming not only an economic powerhouse, but also a military super-power. Properly considered, China's military spending is nearly half our own. Its military build-up should give us pause.
As America’s veterans, you understand better than anyone that weakness invites aggression and that the best ally of peace is a strong America.
Our Air Force is now older and smaller than it has been for decades. Our navy has fewer ships than it is has had since World War One. The Navy says it needs 313 ships to fulfill it missions around the world. It only has 284 ships and we’re on track to drop down to the low 200s.
And while our output has declined, the bureaucracy has increased. There is enormous waste. Let me give you an example: During World War Two, we built 1,000 ships per year with 1,000 people in the Bureau of Ships – the purchasing department, if you will. In the 1980’s we built 17 ships per year, with 4,000 people in purchasing. Today, for 9 ships a year, it takes 25,000 people!
Let me tell you, as a conservative businessman who has spent most of his life in the private sector, I look at that kind of inefficiency and bloat and say, “Let me at it.”
I will slice billions of dollars in waste and inefficiency and bureaucracy from the defense budget. I will use the money we save for modern ships and planes, and for more troops. And I’ll spend it to ensure that veterans have the care they deserve.
The sacrifices made by our soldiers inspire. As governor, I had the honor and privilege of visiting our wounded in military hospitals here and abroad. I walked room to room and bed to bed, visiting with these young heroes. Their courage and determination extends beyond the battlefields, to these hospitals, and then to their homes. Amputees who fought for America now compete for America in the Paralympic games. A young father holds his child with prosthetic arms.
Others were not wounded, but they sacrificed in other ways. They missed a birth or birthdays. They endured financial hardship and lost opportunity.
As governor, I attended a great many funerals and wakes. I met with families—parents, wives and husbands and children. As you know too well, it is heart wrenching.
I met with our soldiers in the anxious days before deployment to dangerous places. I welcomed them home, sometimes in celebrations. Sometimes in caskets.
I remember one day toward the end of my term when my office got a call telling us that a soldier’s body was being returned to our state from Iraq, coming in on a U.S. Airways flight. The soldier's family had not been notified in time to get to the airport to receive the body; I was asked if I would go to the airport in their stead. Of course, I said yes.
We drove over to the airport and the police car took me out on the tarmac. The jet came in and the people disembarked and then the luggage came down the conveyor, and finally, the casket came down, too. And the State Troopers who were there with me all saluted. And I put my hand on my heart.
And I happened to glance up at the terminal. There’s a big wall of glass at the U.S. Airways terminal in Boston right where the plane had come in, and the people coming off the plane had seen all the police cars, so they’d stopped to see what was going on. And the people walking down the hall saw the people leaning up against the glass, so they pulled up behind them. A huge crowd had formed up there.
Every single person I saw had their hand on their heart. And I couldn’t see tears through the glass, but I could see the faces, the sorrow, the admiration, the appreciation for that young soldier.
We are a patriotic people. We face extraordinary challenges. The American people rise to the occasion. They only ask for a leader who will tell them the truth, who will live with integrity, and who will actually lead them in the direction that will preserve this great nation.
We’ve lost a couple of years, but we haven’t lost our way. The principles that made America the hope of the earth are the principles that will keep us the great shining city upon a hill.
It’s time for us to come together and to carry our message across this country, that we’re taking back America, that we’re restoring those principles that made America the great nation that it is. Because we believe in America, we’re going to keep America strong, and worthy of the great sacrifice of America’s veterans and those young men and women who put their lives on the line for us even today.