Thank you ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much for that warm welcome. Ladies and gentlemen, and, General Skibbie, thank you, sir, for that introduction. It's a pleasure to be your guest here. My thanks also to the chairman, Mac Cramer, and to all of you for coming. I would single out, except I can't see them, our three service Secretaries and Ambassador Cooper who are all with us today. And I might say, all four of them are doing a superb job for our country, and I'm extraordinarily grateful to them.
I've seen some wonderful things just in the last few days around our country. Larry touched on it, referred to it a little bit, but last week, Mt. Rushmore had its dedication: Americans celebrating their nation and their fighting forces. And here in Washington, we enjoyed an incredible fireworks display last Thursday -- a spectacle surpassed perhaps only by the red glare of those Patriot missiles over Israel and Saudi Arabia.
And I can tell you, maybe not as well as some of you could tell me, that the mood in this country is one of confidence, is one of renewed patriotism and pride, and nobody can take that away from the United States. It's out there and it's strong, and a lot of it, of course, stems from the way our men and women performed in Desert Storm. And somebody touched elusively -- the General did a little bit, or alluded to it -- the Vietnam period. And let me just say that one of the beautiful things about what's happened out there is there is now a justifiable, long-overdue recognition and credit given to those who served in Vietnam. And I can't tell you how much pride and pleasure I take out of that.
You may not realize it, this is a little-known fact, but today is the anniversary of Zachary Taylor's death. [Laughter] The poor guy has really suffered his share of indignities recently -- [laughter] -- digging him up. But I want to set the historical record straight about Zachary. I was told that his last words were, "Pass the broccoli." [Laughter] No, so his last words were, really, "I have endeavored to do my duty."
And what I've done here today is come to talk about our shared duty to maintain an effective national defense. The Senate, as everybody here knows, has started looking at our defense budget. And its deliberations could have a profound impact on our future national security.
Recognizing the changing international environment and taking into account domestic fiscal constraints, our administration has proposed a tough, lean defense budget -- a proposal that consumes a smaller percentage of our gross national product than any defense budget since the Great Depression. Now, you don't have to have an accounting degree or a chest full of medals to understand that under present circumstances, every penny we spend on unnecessary defense items will come at the expense of defense muscle.
I know that budget cuts are going to hurt. They're going to hurt some right here in this room, and I understand that. But we will have to set new priorities and focus on only our most important, absolutely vital programs. As President, I have a duty to serve the national interest, and our national interest demands a defense budget that guarantees our security at the lowest feasible cost.
And last August I announced plans to restructure our Armed Forces in light of the cold war's end and the emergence of a new kind of world. And I might say that that proposal was carefully thought out by the top people in the Pentagon -- not only the Joint Chiefs, but others; people in whom I have so much confidence. And that proposal recognized some fundamental facts: One, we don't have a blank check for defense -- never have. We must live within our means. Two, instabilities around the globe still threaten us and many nations have acquired weapons of mass destruction. And when despots such as this Saddam Hussein combine modern weapons and ancient ambitions, they do threaten us all. And Saddam Hussein isn't the only despot around and, nor regrettably, will he be the last.
And meanwhile, the Soviet Union remains a military superpower, with an increasingly sophisticated war machine and a program to modernize -- to modernize many of its weapons systems.
And three, we need the right kind of military. Our forces must have the strength here and abroad to discourage aggression, the mobility to meet unexpected challenges, and the flexibility to deal with everything from ICBM's to regional conflicts to hostage crises.
These considerations lie at the heart of our administration's defense proposals. And any defense bill that fails to incorporate them will get my veto.
With that in mind, let me talk about a few items that I consider absolutely crucial, beginning with the B - 2 Stealth bomber. I've asked for 75 B - 2 bombers, the most revolutionary military aircraft in our nation's history. And when you hear certain members of Congress complain about the B - 2's cost, remember that a single B - 2 does the job of literally dozens of aircraft, tankers, escorts, suppression and surveillance craft, and other bombers. And when people argue coyly that we only need a few B - 2s because they're so technologically advanced, ask yourselves: Should we risk our security, the lives of our sons and daughters, and our national credibility just because some do not want to acknowledge the revolutionary advantage this weapon system will give the Nation? Should we enter the 21st century reliant upon a bomber designed in the forties and built in the fifties? No. The B - 2 combines the range and payload of the B - 52 with the advantages, the enormous advantages, the proven advantages, of Stealth technology. And in the end it offers deterrence -- nuclear deterrence, conventional deterrence -- deterrence all across the spectrum.
Think about the costs; think about military operations; think about our long-range national security needs, and you'll conclude that we do, indeed, need two full wings of the B - 2.
Some also seem reluctant to spend money protecting Americans from accidental or intentional ballistic missile attacks. We've asked Congress to support the GPALS' system -- that's Global Protection Against Limited Strikes. Anyone who thinks we will face threats more severe than the Scud missile -- won't face them -- are deluding themselves. If we want to protect ourselves and deter aggression, we have a responsibility to develop defense technologies, such as brilliant pebbles, that lie within our reach. This includes GPALS.
As we prepare for the future, we must also ask what kind of military force structure we need. Our Gulf experience reinforced the valuable role that the Reserves can play. And it also showed that we don't need the kind of Reserve components the House insists that we keep. The House defense bills would spend nearly $12 billion over the next 5 years on unneeded Reserve positions and operations. This money would come, frankly, at the expense of programs that all our forces -- Active and Reserve -- will need.
We learned many things in the Gulf -- many, many things -- a number of which were anticipated in the defense speech that I gave last August 2d -- ironically, if you think back, the very day Saddam invaded Kuwait. And we learned that nations of the world can and will act collectively to deal with aggression. They'll try diplomacy first, as well we should and as well we did, and use military action only as a last resort. We learned that the United States alone -- it's only the United States that can mobilize the international community and then lead it through such efforts. That leadership was not just coincidence or nice to have, it was a prerequisite for our collective success. And I salute those in our country that led.
We learned that high-tech weapons are not pricey, expensive "toys," as critics have claimed for many years. They minimize civilian casualties, maximize damage to military targets, shorten wars, save lives -- American lives; in this instance, coalition lives, and, yes, even enemy lives. We must never forget any life unnecessarily lost is a tragedy, especially in times of war.
It would be a shame if, so soon after this war, we disregarded these lessons. And it would be a travesty to waste money on defenses that would not have helped us in the Gulf and won't help us meet our future challenges.
As the Senate begins its deliberations, I urge it to pass a budget that defends people, not pork; that enables us to fight the next war, not the last one; that promotes national security, period.
Let me tell you now, if the Congress sends me a defense bill that is inadequate, that fails to fund needed programs and wastes money at the expense of defense muscle, no matter how big a bill, how urgent, I will veto it.
You see, we have tried, we have tried to restore proportion to Federal Government and use the office of the Presidency to make decisions that might seem too painful -- understandably so -- to Representatives or Senators. I understand where they're coming from. I was a Member of the United States Congress; I've served there, and I know the genuine pressure on Members of Congress to advance the interests of their home district or of their State.
Thirty years ago, in his valedictory address to the Nation, Dwight Eisenhower emphasized several themes that remain important today. "A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment," he said. "Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction." And yet, Ike also cautioned that our efforts must serve national interests and national needs -- not the narrow concerns of specific industries or interest groups.
A new world order demands a new set of defense priorities. And together, we can put those priorities into action. As attention turns toward the Senate now, I ask your help in creating a military strong enough to protect our interests, but lean enough to preserve public faith in government.
I am delighted to have had this opportunity to express those who are knowledgeable in this field and who can be extraordinarily helpful in pursuing the ends I've outlined here.
Thank you for all you do. Thank you for your continued efforts to keep America safe and strong.
Let me close on a matter not exactly related to our defense program. Yesterday I had an interview with some journalists. I'm fixing to go overseas on a rather prolonged trip, and we met with the journalists from many of the countries that I will be visiting. And one of the people asked the question to me about the war against Saddam Hussein. And the question was put, well, given events since victory, do you think it was worthwhile? Do you think what you did as a country, not individually, but do you think what you did was worthwhile? I think that was the way the question was phrased. And I said: I have never been more convinced that what we did was worthwhile. Some are moving the goalposts. Some are trying to redefine what the war was about. Was it instant democracy in Kuwait? Was it the total demise of Saddam Hussein? It wasn't these.
An international coalition came together. We utilized the United Nations in a way that it's never been utilized, but perhaps its framers thought it would be utilized. And we decided that aggression would not stand. And one of the reasons we were successful in proving to the world that aggression would not stand was because of the men and women in the Armed Forces and because we had the equipment, because we had the technology to make our words of warning count.
And I am absolutely convinced that this revisionistic theory, thinking that we're hearing around this town and other places is as wrong as it can be, because, in my view, with the thanks of a fantastic military and the equipment and the people, we did something noble. We kicked aggression right out of Kuwait, and we said to the aggressor the international community and international law won't stand for this kind of behavior in the future. And that was the message. It is relevant; it is strong. And that is why I am so determined that we have a defense budget and a defense capability in the future that will permit us, if ever called upon, to make very clear to an aggressor, your aggression will not stand.
Thank you all very much. And may God bless our country.