President Barack Obama says the United States will boost its national security by maintaining the world's most-potent military and eliminating wasteful defense spending. Addressing the national convention of Veterans of Foreign Wars in Arizona on Monday, the president pledged to use America's military might wisely and effectively, and to tend to the needs of those who have served in harm's way.
As all commanders-in-chief before him, President Obama paid tribute to generations of American war veterans.
"It's not the powerful weapons that make our military the strongest in the world. It's not the sophisticated systems that make us the most advanced. No, the true strength of our military lies in the spirit and skill of our men and women in uniform," he said.
Mr. Obama said American servicemen and women have once again proven themselves in Iraq, where all U.S. forces are to be withdrawn by the end of 2011, and in Afghanistan, where the president said a sustained effort will be required to defeat an entrenched insurgency and eliminate safe havens for terrorists.
Mr. Obama noted that less than one percent of Americans are serving in uniform at a time when enormous demands have been placed on the armed forces.
"Perhaps never in American history have so few protected so many. The responsibility for our security must not be theirs alone. That is why I have made it a priority to enlist all elements of our national power in defense of our national security -- our diplomacy and development, our economic might and our moral example," he added.
In addition, the president said he is increasing the nation's defense budget while reforming the way America spends its military dollars. Mr. Obama criticized projects and weaponry geared toward the now-defunct Cold War rather than battling today's insurgents in rugged terrain. He pledged to veto any defense bill that promotes defense contractor and Pentagon special interests rather than the life and death needs of U.S. troops.
"This waste would be unacceptable at any time. But at a time when we're fighting two wars and facing a serious deficit, it is inexcusable. It is an affront to the American people and to our troops. And it is time for it to stop," said the president.
As an example, Mr. Obama pointed to plans to build a new, multi-billion-dollar presidential helicopter. He said the proposed helicopter would come with a dazzling array of unnecessary capabilities, like food preparation during a nuclear attack.
"I will tell you something. If the United States of America is under nuclear attack, the last thing on my mind will be whipping up a snack," he said.
The crowd of several thousand occasionally interrupted the president with polite applause. The applause grew louder when Mr. Obama promised to do more to help military families and to address the needs of veterans in health care, housing and other matters.
The president's focus on cutting wasteful military spending comes at a time of record U.S. budget deficits and the longest economic recession since World War II. Public opinion polls show that many Americans are greatly concerned about rising government spending at a time when tax receipts are falling dramatically.
The president spoke in Arizona, home state of his Republican opponent in last year's election, Senator John McCain, a leading proponent of defense spending reform.