Unveiling his plans for the U.S. military in a speech Thursday at The Citadel military academy in Charleston, S.C., the GOP frontrunner said he would increase spending on research and development of weapons, raise soldiers' salaries, develop an anti-ballistic missile system and avoid "vague, aimless and endless" troop deployments throughout the world.
"If elected, I will set three goals: I will renew the bond of trust between the American president and the American military; I will defend the American people against missiles and terror; and I will begin creating the military of the next century," he said.
The two-term Texas governor spoke to an overflow audience of about 600, including about 400 cadets in gray uniforms. Several cadets pumped their fists in the air as he was introduced.
"With that kind of reception, you've got amnesty," Bush told the cadets. "I don't care what the general says."
Bush holds a hefty lead in polls over all Democratic and Republican presidential contenders. The address, part of a series of speeches designed to spell out his presidential agenda, is an answer to critics who say Bush is not ready to be president and that his views on public policy are undeveloped.
A spokesman for Vice President Al Gore, who is seeking the Democratic nomination, made light of Bush's foreign policy credentials and his history of confusing names of countries. "The governor's foreign policy expertise begins with Slovenia and ends with Slovakia, and even these have proven to be too much of a challenge," Chris Lehane said.
The biggest price tag in Bush's package is for research and development, where Bush would increase spending by $20 billion over five years. The annual Pentagon budget is about $270 billion.
In addition, 20 percent of the current budget for weapons and information systems should be earmarked for the purchase of weapons that take advantage of new technologies, Bush said.
With the end of the Cold War -- which he called "the hard but clear struggle against an evil empire" -- Bush said America must take advantage of "a revolution in the technology of war" to remain strong enough to maintain peace throughout the world.
"Power is increasingly defined, not by mass or size, but by mobility and swiftness," Bush said. "Influence is measured in information, safety is gained in stealth, and force is projected on the long arc of precision-guided weapons," he said. "This revolution perfectly matches the strengths of our country and the skill of our people and the superiority of our technology."
Bush implied that the Clinton administration has broken faith with U.S. troops by paying them too little and putting them n harm's way too often. He promised to spend $1 billion a year, on top of a pay increase pending in Congress, to increase military salaries, and said he would order a review of overseas commitments.
Responding to Bush's speech, David Leavy, chief spokesman for the White House's National Security Council, said it was wrong to say the administration had overused the military.
"The president has made one of his key national security priorities making sure that our armed forces are the best trained, best led and best equipped fighting force in the world," Leavy said, adding that the administration has proposed the first sustained increase in overall defense spending since the late 1980s.