Commander Wong, thank you for that introduction. Adjutant Wheeler, President Nelson, it is good to see you both. I appreciate the invitation to join you on dry land this afternoon.
Our thoughts, of course, are with the people of the Gulf Coast states. Seven years ago today, they were bracing for Hurricane Katrina. This afternoon, they are enduring Isaac. We are grateful that it appears Isaac will spare them from the kind of damage we saw during Katrina. But for many in the Gulf Coast who just finished repairing their homes and are getting life back to normal, this must be a heavy burden. Today, our thoughts are with them, our prayers go out to them, and our country must do all we can to help them recover.
I'll be heading back to Florida later today. And you may be wondering why I'm not down there right now, practicing and polishing the final draft of my speech. My answer is this: When our nation called, you served. And I consider any opportunity to address our nation's veterans a privilege not to be missed.
It is an honor to be with you today for the 94th Annual Convention of the American Legion.
I am proud to have the support of many fine Legionnaires in this election, including nine of your former National Commanders and one past Executive Director. To Robert Spanogle, John Comer, John Sommer, and all those gathered here who have offered support and advice over the last 14 months: I appreciate your help, your guidance, and your continued commitment to a free and strong America.
Anyone who knows about the American Legion understands this is much more than an organization of veterans. Every day, you seek and you find new ways to give back to the country you love. From American Legion Baseball to the Child Welfare Foundation, your achievements are many, significant, and deeply appreciated.
Here at the American Legion convention -- and in Tampa at the Republican convention -- we are talking about important issues that will determine our future as a nation and as a people. You've defended our country, and now we must decide what kind of country we want to live in. Later tonight I hope you will tune in and listen as my running mate, Paul Ryan, talks about our vision for a better future for all Americans.
As I have travelled across America, I've had the privilege of visiting with many veterans and heard their concerns. Overwhelmingly the number one concern I hear from young vets can be summed up in one word: Jobs.
They have served their country and they want to get back to work. They need and deserve good jobs. And this President's greatest failure is that he has not delivered those jobs. As President, I will get America back to work again!
I recently traveled to Great Britain, Israel, and Poland -- three countries that are part of the great fellowship of democracies. The highlights of the trip were not just the places I visited -- like the Western Wall and Gdansk -- but the meetings I had with great champions of freedom like Benjamin Netanyahu, David Cameron, and Lech Walesa. President Walesa welcomed me in, asked me to sit down, and spoke with his characteristic candor. "Where is American leadership," he said, "the world needs America to lead!"
I came back home with an even deeper appreciation of the importance of strong ties with our allies -- and with an even firmer conviction that there is a role that only America can play in the world. The United Nations is a place where nations can talk, but leadership-- leadership that preserves peace and promotes freedom--must come from the United States of America
The world continues to be a dangerous place. Major powers are rapidly adding to their military capabilities, sometimes with intentions very different from our own.
The regime in Tehran leads chants of "death to America" and is drawing closer to nuclear weapons capability.
The threat of radical Islamic terrorism persists, despite the welcome removal of Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders.
With instability in Pakistan and horrific violence Syria, and with North Korea having shared nuclear technology, the threat of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction continues to be very real.
And we are still at war in Afghanistan. We still have uniformed men and women in conflict, risking their lives just as you once did.
All of this and more is happening around the world right now. And yet, for the past four years, President Obama has allowed our leadership to diminish. In dealings with other nations, he has given trust where it is not earned, insult where it is not deserved, and apology where it is not due.
A fundamental principle of American foreign policy has long been to work closely with our allies so that we can deter aggression before it breaks out into open conflict. We used to nurture our alliances and stand up for our common values. But when it comes to friends and allies like Poland, the Czech Republic, and Israel and with nations that oppose us like Iran and Cuba President Obama has moved in the opposite direction. Our foreign policy should take a page from the US Marine Corp: No better friend, no worse enemy.
A just and peaceful world depends upon our strength and our confidence.
Our foreign policy must demonstrate confidence in our cause, clarity in our purpose, and resolve in our might. Confidence in our cause compels us in our relations with other nations to promote liberty, free enterprise and human rights. Clarity in our purpose requires that when we act, we honestly describe our mission, how we will know when it has been accomplished, and what will have been achieved when it is completed. And resolve in our might, means that in those exceptional cases where a substantial American interest demands that we take military action, we will employ overwhelming means to protect our troops and to achieve our objectives.
We are now just months away from an arbitrary, across-the-board budget reduction that would weaken the military with a trillion dollars in cuts, severely shrink our force structure, and impair our ability to meet and deter threats. President Obama's own Secretary of Defense has warned that these reductions would be "devastating." And he is right.
The devastation will be felt here at home, where up to 1.5 million jobs could be lost. GDP growth could fall significantly. These cuts will place further stress on an already stretched VA system, and impair our solemn commitment that every veteran receives care second to none.
A year ago, President Obama told your national convention that, "We cannot, we must not, we will not, balance the budget on the backs of our veterans." I thought I finally agreed with him on something -- but now, he is on the verge of breaking that promise.
The Obama administration is set to cut defense spending by nearly a trillion dollars. My administration will not. Working together with my running mate, Paul Ryan, I will make reductions in other areas and install pro-growth policies to make sure that our country remains safe and secure. There are plenty of places to cut in a federal budget that now totals well over $3 trillion a year, but defense is not one of them.
Beyond the President's failure to deliver an economic recovery, and beyond his reckless defense cuts, are the reproachable failures at the VA. The backlog for disability claims has doubled on his watch. There are now close to one million claims waiting to be processed. Veterans face unconscionable waits for mental health treatment. Every day, 18 servicemen and veterans take their own lives -- an unspeakable and unacceptable tragedy.
The problems with the VA are serious, and must be fixed. We are in danger of another generation of veterans losing their faith in VA system. On my watch, that will not be allowed to happen.
The Obama administration has also requested $12 billion in TRICARE fee increases. I will not ask our wartime military to shoulder more sacrifices while the rest of government grows. I will not ask our service members -- active or retired -- to pay more for their health care to free up room for Obamacare.
I will keep faith with our troops and our veterans -- and my administration will do better by them. I was astounded to read about a federal building in Virginia that became structurally unstable in 2010 because so many veterans' claims had stacked up inside it. I am going to make reforming that agency a personal priority of mine -- and I've already started thinking about the policies I will put in place to make it work better for you.
I will modify the Post 9/11 GI Bill so that any veteran wishing to continue his or her education is eligible for in-state tuition, regardless of residency.
To make it easier for veterans to find employment in skilled trades, I will work with the states to create a common credentialing and licensing standard, and encourage credentialing organizations to recognize and grant credit for military training.
Right now the VA has a shortage of mental health care professionals. I will hire more -- and any time a veteran is unable to receive timely health care from the VA system, he or she will be allowed to see a TRICARE provider at the VA's expense.
I have said before that this must be an American Century. And to accomplish that, we must have the strongest military and the strongest economy in the world.
Regrettably, President Obama has failed on both counts. As his term in office comes to an end, we are now further from making this an American Century. Our economy is weak, and our military is bracing for devastating cuts.
When a country is hurting at home, the biggest political debates are understandably about domestic issues -- how to get small businesses growing again; how to get jobless Americans back to work; how to show people who feel trapped in this stagnant economy that the hard times won't last forever, because a better future is about to dawn.
But you and I know that our debates can change suddenly, with a ringing phone in the dead of night or a grim-faced reporter in the middle of the day or a plume of smoke on a clear blue morning. The first job of government is to keep the American people safe -- and as President, that will be my commitment to the American people.
But our security and prosperity are connected. Our military strength depends on our economic strength. The well-being of our veterans depends on our ability to make sure they can find good jobs when they come home. And our ability to field the strongest fighting force in the world depends on leaders in Washington who know how to set priorities, write real budgets, and protect our soldiers and their families from devastating cuts.
Paul Ryan and I have a plan to keep America strong and secure, prosperous and free. Where the President has failed to lead, we will protect our national defense from cuts that jeopardize critical missions. Where he has let our veterans down, we will welcome them home to a booming economy and the jobs they need. Where he has dodged the tough choices, we will confront them head-on, and deliver a better future for Americans of this generation and the next.
This week, you've seen leaders from all across America gather in Tampa to show how we can build a future that is better than our past.
Tonight that will be Paul Ryan. And tomorrow it will be my privilege to make my case to the American people.
Together, we'll get this country back on track. We'll deliver the recovery we've been waiting for. We will keep America strong, secure, and the hope of the earth.
Thank you. Thank you for your service. And God bless America.