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Bush salutes the armed forces and vows to improve military life

SHARE Bush salutes the armed forces and vows to improve military life

WASHINGTON — President Bush marked U.S. Independence Day with a tribute to the armed forces Saturday, promising "a new defense strategy for a new age" and extolling his $32.6 billion plan to improve military life.

With the July 4 holiday falling on Wednesday, Bush used his weekly radio address to remind Americans that "words alone" did not secure U.S. independence and that, in 1776, liberty had to be defended by soldiers and sailors.

"Much has changed over the past two centuries for the people who wear the uniform of the United States," he said. "We owe them the same appreciation that we feel for the soldiers of Bunker Hill, Valley Forge and Yorktown. We owe them fair salaries, first-class health benefits and decent housing.

"What we owe, we will pay," vowed Bush, who this week asked Congress for an additional $32.6 billion in 2001 to improve training, readiness and quality of life for U.S. troops.

Bush has proposed an overall defense budget of $329 billion for next year that would retire the stock of Peacekeeper missiles, reduce the number of B-1 bombers and increase funding to develop a missile defense system.

The spending plan submitted to Congress for fiscal 2002, which starts in October, would increase defense spending by $18.4 billion over an initial blueprint submitted in February and by almost $33 billion over the current year's budget.

Calling it the biggest defense increase since the military buildup of the mid-1980s under President Ronald Reagan, Bush said that "for too many years our strength has dwindled."

During the 2000 presidential election campaign, Bush frequently blamed the administration of his predecessor Bill Clinton for allowing military morale and readiness to decline to "dangerous" levels.

"Now, we are rebuilding once again, and our first priority is the well-being of men and women in uniform," he said. Two-thirds of military family housing units are listed by the Defense Department as being in poor condition.

Bush said when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld completed a review of the mission and structure of the U.S. armed forces "we'll be proposing a new defense strategy for a new age, a strategy that recognizes the Cold War is over but that threats to our security still remain."

That strategy includes his controversial proposal to build a missile shield that would protect the United States and its allies from rogue attacks or accidental launches after renegotiating — or abrogating — the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty prohibiting such systems.

China and Russia, who fear a new and costly arms race, are staunchly opposed to the idea. Bush tried to sell his plan to skeptical European leaders in Sweden this month and then to Russian President Vladimir Putin at their first meeting two weeks ago in Slovenia.

"We are consulting with our allies, with Russia, and with others on a defense system that will protect our country, our forces and our friends from missile attack and nuclear blackmail," he said.

Missile defense was a topic at the first meeting between Bush and new Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi at Camp David, the presidential retreat in the Maryland mountains, on Saturday. Koizumi reiterated Japan's "understanding" of the idea but went no further.

In his radio address, Bush declared it "time for fresh thinking and rapid change in our national defense to prepare for challenges that are changing just as quickly."