Jeb Bush photo

Remarks at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina

November 18, 2015

Thank you very much. I appreciate the hospitality of the Citadel and the privilege of addressing members of the Corps of Cadets. It's great to be here, and I'm proud to report that in the Citadel spirit, I got to the Parade Deck early this morning and went for a run with the Summerall Guards.

So next time a Presidential candidate comes by here, tell them Jeb set a new precedent. From now on, you can't give a speech to cadets without first doing some P.T. And for all of us, what a privilege this morning to be in the presence of war heroes throughout this room. And for me, to be introduced by Major General James Livingston, is a special honor.

When you are in the presence of General Livingston, you don't need any reminders from me about military virtues. His character, and the character of our military is summed up in that one word on the medal he earned: "Valor." This Marine did more than could ever be asked, gave more than could ever be repaid, and I am honored to have his support. Thank you all for being here.

As we gather today, we do so with memories fresh from the atrocities in Paris. The indiscriminate murder of people sitting outside a cafe...the slaughter of innocents outside the national soccer stadium, and at a concert hall...The merciless killing of women, children, and unarmed citizens whose only crime was living in freedom. Our hearts are broken for the people of France. They are our oldest and first ally and we are joined together by shared values. Like France, we know the deep sorrow of innocent lives lost, due to terrorist brutality.

What happened on the streets of Paris on Friday should not come as a surprise. After all, we have seen ISIS expand its deadly reach in recent weeks to Lebanon, to Egypt, and to Turkey — to say nothing of the daily horrors faced by those who live under their control in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan. This brutal savagery is a reminder of what is at stake in this election.

We are choosing the leader of the free world. And if these attacks remind us of anything, it is that we are living in serious times that require serious leadership And that the free world needs to act. The last seven years under President Obama have taught us that problems do not take care of themselves in the absence of American leadership. During the State of the Union address, he declared we were stopping the advance of ISIS, and soon after they took Ramadi.

Last Friday, he repeated the delusion that ISIS is contained, just hours before they murdered 129 innocent people in Paris, and hours after they killed dozens in Beirut. America has had enough of empty words, of declarations detached from reality of an administration with no strategy or no intention of victory. Here is the truth you will not hear from our president: We are at war with radical Islamic terrorism. It is the war of our time, and a struggle that will determine the fate of the free world.

Three months ago at the Reagan Library, I warned that we need to defeat ISIS and I outlined a clear and serious strategy to eradicate it. The actions I called for then remain critical:

  • We must unleash the power of our Air Force by removing self-imposed restraints;
  • Enforce a no fly zone;
  • Create safe zones in Syria;
  • Allow our special operations forces to target terrorist networks; and
  • Arm the Kurdish forces.

Since the attacks in Paris, the demand for action to stamp out ISIS has rightly grown. The United States should not delay in leading a global coalition to take out ISIS with overwhelming force. As the words of French President Hollande have made clear, the United States will not be alone in galvanizing this global effort.

Militarily, we need to intensify our efforts in the air — and on the ground. While air power is essential, it alone cannot bring the results we seek. The United States — in conjunction with our NATO allies and more Arab partners — will need to increase our presence on the ground.

The scope of which should be in line with what our military generals recommend will be necessary to achieve our objective. But the bulk of these ground troops will need to come from local forces that we have built workable relationships with. Finally, to take out ISIS, we must end Assad's brutal war against his own people and create a political solution that allows for a stable Syria. Let there be no doubt, this will not be easy.

Some of you in this room will serve on the front lines of that fight against ISIS and against radical Islamic terrorism. You will sign up for an uncertain fate, on foreign fields of battle, because your country, and the cause of freedom, are calling you.

For generations, American-led alliances, American diplomacy, American military power, and American credibility defended the peace and deterred the violent. This is the way forward in our time as well. But for the United States, who's going to help our friends and allies in the Middle East gain the upper hand against radical Islamic terrorists like ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hizballah? But for the United States, who will lead the effort to once and for all stop Iran's bid for nuclear weapons capability, its support for terrorism, and its ballistic missile proliferation? But for the United States, who will defend Christians, Iranian dissidents, religious minorities, and other persecuted peoples in the Middle East and across the world?

Due to President Obama's defense cuts, for the first time in 7 years, there is no U.S. aircraft carrier in the Arabian Gulf to counter Iran.

Who will be the dependable friend of the people of Israel, standing with them against the worst, if not the United States of America? The fate of millions, the security of our own people, and the cause of human freedom itself, all depend on the decisions we make in these coming years. Bad things — and sometimes very bad things happen when America steps away from hard challenges. It is time for American leadership again, and that leadership requires a change in course.

Defending our national interests always involves risk, but the greatest risk of all is the risk of military inferiority. Today, that is the direction we are headed. The next president will take office after an eight-year drawdown of American military power, and careless, chronic neglect by the President and Congress.

You would be hard-pressed these days to find any soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine who feels that Washington is doing right by the military. And I agree. In the span of a decade, our government will have withheld a trillion dollars from our national defense. There is no security rationale for these cuts, or any kind of strategic vision. They are completely arbitrary — imposed by a process that everyone in Washington claims to dislike, but no one in Washington has the courage to stop.

In these years we have seen cuts in defense that are not only automatic, but also systematic. Not only relentless, but irrational. We are going from the cutting edge of military power to what the Army secretary calls the "ragged edge of readiness."

The active Army has 80,000 fewer soldiers. Half of our stateside Marine units are not ready to fight. Twelve fleets of Air Force planes qualify for antique license plates in Virginia. The B-52 — the backbone of our bomber fleet — took its first flight when Harry Truman was President. As for the entire naval fleet, it has shrunk to around half the size it was at the end of the Cold War. Sometimes big problems are summed up in one anecdote. Here's a story that caught my attention.

To conduct training exercises under our NATO obligations in Europe, American forces have been borrowing helicopters and other vehicles from our allies. We don't have enough of our own hardware and equipment even for training purposes....So the British are spotting us choppers. That's not just unsafe — it's embarrassing. Whatever challenges we face in Europe or elsewhere, we're not going to meet them with borrowed equipment.

Others are not following our example of military downsizing. China, to take the most obvious example, has for years been spending heavily on warships, submarines, long-range attack aircraft, missile systems, and other capabilities that threaten America's strategic position in the Pacific. And whatever China's designs are in all this, we can safely assume it's not in our interest to draw down as they build up.

President Obama doesn't see a reason to change course. And here in South Carolina two weeks ago, Hillary Clinton said that her foreign policy would be no more aggressive or forward leaning than his. I reject their diminished view of America's role in the world. In my administration, security for the United States will mean gaining and keeping the edge in every category, old and new. Whether it's our command of the seas, the land, or the air, of space or cyberspace, America's goal should be technological superiority beyond question.

My plan puts the warfighters first, to maintain a force without equal. Such a force is essential for deterrence, but we must understand that deterrence sometimes fails. In such circumstances, ideally after other elements of American influence and power have been utilized, when the threat we face is an urgent one, and defeating it is in our national interest, we must be prepared to use force.

When we do use force, it must be effective, and our objectives must be well defined, so that one deployment doesn't lead to endless others — or leave the job undone. Any use of force will be purposeful, aimed only toward victory, and always with the heavy thumb of American power, resources, and resolve on the scales of war.

I have a plan for a 21-st century military to project that force — when necessary — around the globe. To prevail in conflict, or better still, to deter enemies and avoid conflict, we must have the end-strength, the readiness, and the equipment to meet any challenge from any adversary. We don't need to be the world's policemen, but we must restore our place as the leader and indispensable power of the free world. This is how we get there:

No service branch has taken deeper personnel cuts in recent years than the Army,  which will soon have an active-duty force of just 450,000 soldiers. That is not nearly enough to protect America's interests. So, as president, I would ask the Congress for an increase of 40,000 active-duty soldiers. Under my plan, the Marines will be restored to an end-strength of 186,000 fighters, because in a crisis, everything can turn on the speed and skill of the Corps. We will act to assure dominance in air and naval forces. We will not allow our pilots to fly 20th century aircraft into the face of 21st-Century air defenses. And we must continue to invest in America's Special Operations Command.

In this complex fight against radical Islamic terrorism, they have demonstrated time and time again their ability to capture and kill senior terrorists, and to embed with, train, and enable local forces so that a larger commitment of American forces is not required.

Like our military, America's intelligence agencies are overstretched, and struggling to respond to technological advances by adversaries and harmful leaks of sensitive information. I will give our talented corps of intelligence professionals — who too often go unrecognized — everything they need to support the warfighter and to get the job done. I believe in the principle that the greater our superiority in military power, the less likely it is that we will have to assert that power, or be provoked into using it.

Our best Presidents have called it peace through strength. And this principle applies to capabilities of every kind, which all require foresight and sustained commitment. Beginning immediately as President, I would work with Congress to rebuild our military forces starting with our most urgent needs:

  • A new generation of aircraft, so that our planes aren't older than our pilots.
  • A larger naval fleet, so that our sailors patrol in the strongest and safest ships on the seas.
  • An acceleration of our submarine program, so that America will always be a quiet whisper in our adversaries' ear
  • Improved missile defenses to protect against the growing threats posed by Iranian and North Korean missiles
  • Surveillance and cybersecurity capabilities superior to anything fielded against them, so that we find the threats before the threats find us.
  • And I will fight to restore the PATRIOT Act's metadata program to ensure we have the ability to connect the dots between known foreign terrorists and potential operatives here in the United States.

If ever there were a time for such a program, it is now, and yet too few in Congress were courageous enough to defend this program when it mattered most. I also laid out a plan here in South Carolina a few months ago to address the VA scandal, modernize the department and empower vets with as many choices as they need to ensure those who serve our country are treated with the dignity they deserve when they return home.

These are among the goals of the 21st Century military plan that I will put before the next Congress. Not because I seek war, but because I seek peace. And I believe the best policy for creating the conditions for peace is to develop the capability to wage war with crushing force. However, we cannot and will not simply throw money at this problem.

We need to reform the Pentagon, shedding overhead passed down from a different generation and adapt it to our 21st Century challenges. That means procurement reform so we buy the right tools at the right price — and get them to the warfighter at the right time. We need to reduce the size of the civilian Department of Defense workforce so that our war-fighters and their families aren't forced to make sacrifices to protect public sector union interests. No interest — and certainly no special interest — should ever come before the needs of the men and women who wear our country's uniform. Nor can any serious modernization plan overlook our vulnerabilities in cyber-warfare.

It is frankly appalling that the United States is not plainly superior to rivals who seek to undermine us in cyberspace. Our government, and American companies, are under cyber-attack every day. To protect ourselves, it is not enough to keep making fixes after every breach. As president, I would give our intelligence agencies the mandate and resources to stay ahead of this threat.

I would work hard to see that the United States is at the forefront of developing a much-needed doctrine on cyber warfare. Potential hackers and cyber thieves — government or non-state actors — need to understand what sort of response they will face should they attack us. Making good on this new doctrine will also require that we develop our own capabilities to the point that America's retaliation to a cyber attack would be certain and devastating.

America, as John F. Kennedy said, "requires only one kind of defense policy, a policy summed up in a single word 'first.'" President Kennedy explained,  "I do not mean 'first, if,' I do not mean 'first, but,' I do not mean 'first, when,' I mean: First. Period. If we are to take command of our future, we must ensure our military is "First. Period." once again.

Our armed forces need to know that support for the military is not another partisan issue,  and that their commander in chief is not just another politician. In every circumstance, against every attempt to shortchange our military, our troops need to be certain that the commander in chief has their back. I will.

I am mindful that Citadel has great traditions, and Charleston has a great history. This is the city where the Civil War's first shots were fired. And the president who led the Union to war, Abraham Lincoln, did so with humility, knowing the cost of conflict, but also knowing the even greater price of surrender. As we gather today, in the aftermath of the bloodshed in Paris, let it be said that this generation knew the cost of war,  but also knew the even greater cost of acquiescence to an enemy with which there is no co-existence.

Radical Islamic terrorists have declared war on the western world. Their aim is our total destruction. We can't withdraw from this threat, or negotiate with it. We have but one choice: to defeat it.

Today we can take inspiration from the courage of the people of France, and from the heroes who liberated it more than 70 years ago. On the Norman Coast, on the bluffs above the beach, thousands of Americans rest. Each one died to stop the evil of their time.

They traded their future for ours and their grave markers face west toward the America they would never return to as an ever-present reminder not only of the price of freedom, but the valor of those who protect it.

During our time, some of you will be called upon to undertake dangerous missions to protect that freedom and defeat the evil we face today. And it would be my mission that should you be sent into harm's way, that you be given every tool to wage war with lethal force and efficiency. You'd have the support from Washington that you have from the American people led by a president who is resolute, as I will be, in the defeat of radical Islamic terrorism wherever it appears.

Together, we can deter aggression, protect our vital interests, overcome the violent, and defend the innocent who are helpless, but for us. So let us accept the task, and see it through, to move this world again in the direction of peace.

God bless you all.

Jeb Bush, Remarks at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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