“Defending America”
Former Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX)
The Citadel
Charleston, SC
April 6, 2015

[remarks, as prepared for delivery]

Members of the Military, members of the faculty, members of the Corps of Cadets – it is an honor to be with you on the campus of the Citadel.

This visit brings back memories for me, to a different time, and a different place but a familiar culture.

In 1968, my dad dropped me off in to the loving hands of the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M University. Being from a place called Paint Creek, where I grew up on a dryland cotton farm, I arrived on campus wide-eyed and full of wonder.

If I had only known what the upperclassmen had planned for me. That day I arrived with all my belongings, packed into a footlocker, my dad saw fit to pull the commanding officer of Squadron Six aside and he instructed him to “make a man out of me.”

I really wish my dad hadn’t done that. Because my Squadron Commander, George Shriever, took that mission seriously.

As luck would have it, I roomed next door to Mr. Shriever. At any hour of the night, he would pound on the wall. That was my cue to run next door and shine his brass, or shine his senior boots, or just sing him to sleep.

Long before I had the title Captain in the Air Force, or Governor of Texas, I had the more inglorious title of “fish” – that’s the Aggie equivalent of a knob. Fish was the first name given to every freshman cadet, symbolizing that no matter where we came from, we were all the same.

One of the first lessons of my time in the Corps was that the whole was greater than the sum of the individual parts. If one of our fish buds screwed up, we all screwed up. And we all paid the price. The fish year was about breaking us down, and remaking us into a single, cohesive unit. We learned to trust each other in the face of adversity, and built relationships that have lasted to this very day. 

My best friends remain the men I met there when I was just 18.

At the Citadel, you have a legendary esprit de corps, and traditions that rival any military institution in the country – from the symbolism of the Citadel ring to the memorization of Knob Knowledge to the cannons fired in the direction of VMI on Parade Day.

The Citadel cadets take a commission go on to become the best of the best, the professional officers that compose the greatest fighting force on the face of the earth.

In a few months, some of you will join the long gray line, as your days in the Corps will become a memory. And many of you will be commissioned as officers in the United States Military.

In recent years, our leaders have painted a fictional picture of the state of our military, and the challenges we face as a country.

America deserves better. You deserve better. 

If you choose to wear the uniform of our nation, you deserve the truth about the realities you will face, however unpleasant.

At no time in the last 25 years has the world been more dangerous. And because of it, some of you will be called upon to put your lives at risk. 

How and where is tough to predict. A little over a year ago Americans had never heard of ISIS. Today ISIS has declared a caliphate over an area the size of Great Britain.

We can’t predict what threats will emerge in the years ahead anymore than we knew on September 10th of 2001 that our nation would be attacked the next day, that 3,000 of our citizens would die, and that America would go to war for more than a dozen years, taking the lives of 97 servicemen and women from South Carolina, including 20 graduates of the Citadel.

The great tragedy of war is the waste of young lives. Some who come home from it are often scarred and broken. And for those who do not, we can only think of what could have been: of artists who would never paint, of authors who would never write, of scientists who would never invent.

This city and this institution has a unique history. It was here that the first shots were fired during the Civil War. 

At that time, no one knew the path of destruction that would lead from Charleston to Appomattox, that the great struggle of that time would endure so long, at so great a cost.

It is said that when General Grant received General Lee’s letter of surrender, the Union soldiers let out three half-hearted cheers, and then every man then proceeded to break down in tears. They knew the great tragedy of war.

When it comes to our foreign policy, we can never forget the toll war takes on our warriors. The human cost of the last 14 years has been immense, and it informs my view of the future – that war, must only be waged when our national interests are jeopardized, and when all other options have been tried, and failed. 

The best policy to preempt war is to establish the capacity and display the resolve to wage it with overwhelming, decisive and crushing force.

The great lesson of history is that strength and resolve bring peace and stability…while weakness and vacillation bring chaos and conflict. This principle has served us well in the post-World War II era. For most of the last seventy years, we have kept a strong peacetime force, developed intelligence assets, utilized the tools of soft power, and built alliances that made the world more secure.

We did not avoid war – as Korea and Vietnam demonstrate – but we avoided world war, and we utilized our superior military capabilities, our free market system and a policy of strategic engagement to rid the world of Soviet Communism. 

Today we live in the world America has shaped...and how different that world would look if it had been instead shaped by the Soviets. 

Consider the difference America has made over the last 75 years – we liberated Nazi-held Europe, we defeated Imperialist Japan, and we defeated the Soviet Union. Berlin, Warsaw, Prague – these are all great cities that are free today because of American sacrifice and American engagement.

The world runs on American innovation. Our companies have pioneered technology that has changed the world. 

A dreaded disease like AIDS that once was a death sentence to those who tested positive for HIV can now be treated because of American scientists. And people living in the poorest countries in Africa can now survive it because of American generosity and our nation’s good will.

Our leaders don’t need to apologize for American values, they should be projecting them.

For much of the last 75 years, there has been bipartisan consensus that America must project its values and its power, engage its allies and competitors, and confront its adversaries. That consensus no longer holds with the Obama Administration.

We cannot take for granted American Power and American influence. 

As President Reagan once said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

The greatest issue of our time is a battle between the Western values of freedom, and the totalitarian worldview of Islamic fanatics. 
We are in the early years of a struggle with violent Islamic extremists that will last many decades. We must display the same resolve in its defeat that we did Soviet Communism.

But today, as America has entered a time of testing, our leaders are failing that test.

The Obama Administration has made grave miscalculations, demonstrated weakness instead of strength, and engaged in wishful thinking instead of making sober assessments based on realities on the ground.

The president’s State of the Union address has become the State of Delusion address. When Yemen is held up as a model for containing terrorism, when ISIS is declared contained – and its religious roots are denied – our president has fallen victim to delusional thinking.

But reality-based thinking paints a different picture. Yemen is in crisis. ISIS has not been contained – even Syrian Dictator Assad admitted as much. And the leadership of ISIS wants to take the world back to the seventh century, cleansing it of Christian, Jewish and Muslim infidels who do not embrace their fanaticism.

We will not defeat radical Islamic extremists by downplaying the threat they pose.

The threats we face across the globe are many, and they are growing.

In the last year, Russia annexed Crimea, invaded Ukraine and violated a cease-fire agreement. They use their vast energy supplies to hold Europe hostage. And Russian ambitions in the Baltics could test the strength of NATO under article 5, which says an attack on any NATO nation is an attack on all NATO nations.

China has become increasingly aggressive in the Pacific. The Chinese are developing long-range, precision missiles that could sink our carriers from great distances. Their goal is to restrict access to waters in their region, and to harm our ability to respond to threats to our interests, and those of our allies.

Both the Chinese and the Russians are aggressively working to counter America’s technology edge on land, by sea, in space and in cyberspace.

The world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, the Islamic Republic of Iran, seeks nuclear weapons.

Let us be clear about Iran’s ambitions: they are an aggressive power seeking dominance in the Middle East. They fund the terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah. They control four proxy states. And nuclear weapons in their hands will destabilize the Middle East, setting off a nuclear arms race that will lead to a Sunni bomb, and create a grave escalation of the threat posed to the one vibrant democracy in the Middle East: Israel.

The president’s negotiations with Iran have served to legitimize – not limit – their nuclear ambitions. 

Should I run for president, and be so fortunate to be elected, one of my first actions in office would be to invalidate the president’s Iran agreement, which jeopardizes the safety and security of the free world.

He says it prevents a nuclear Iran. Just the opposite, this agreement enables it. And no agreement is better than a bad agreement.

President Obama has the dubious distinction of being the first president whose attempts to end two wars have made the world more dangerous. His agreement with Iran will only further destabilize the Middle East.

The next president will inherit the chaos of the current Administration. And this will put a great strain on our military resources.

But we must be truthful with the American People about the state of disrepair of our military.

Our military is being decimated by major budget cuts at the tail end of two grueling wars. Because of the failed leadership of both parties – who treated our defense forces as a pawn in a budgetary game of chicken – our armed forces are depleted, our military infrastructure is aging, and our technology advantages are being severely challenged.

The last time the Administration did a serious review of what is required for our nation’s defense was in the form of then-Secretary Robert Gates’ 2012 budget, which said we needed to increase defense spending by close to one trillion dollars over ten years. There is bipartisan consensus behind that number. But it is much harder to get bipartisan action.

The Republican-led Congress is making some progress on increasing defense spending. Yet defense spending in the current budget is still insufficient. 

If I were president today, I would reframe the entire defense debate – from what do we have leftover to spend on defense, to what must we spend to keep America safe. 

Consider the following facts: Our nuclear infrastructure is aging. Yet, the Administration’s budgets have cut funding for nuclear modernization below the level President Obama promised when he was seeking support for the New START treaty.  

His budgets cut missile defense spending at a time when potential adversaries are beefing up their offensive capacity.  

We have the smallest Army since 1940. In the last three years, the Army’s strength has been cut by 100,000 soldiers. The Air Force has fared no better. We are down to only one fighter, the F-35, in production, and assets like the A-10s are being retired purely because of sequestration. Less than half of the Air Force’s squadrons are fully ready. Only half of the Marine Corps’ non-deployed units have sufficient personnel, equipment, and training.

In an era of historic debt, the Department of Defense – like every government agency – should eliminate waste. I am convinced we could save over $100 billion through reforms to the military procurement process. But savings from procurement alone will not fund our nation’s defense needs. 

I agree with the Heritage Foundation, which wrote in 2013, “that the shrinking military budget is a symptom of the growing federal debt rather than a solution to it…that the readiness shortfalls caused by the recent cuts will cost far more to remedy than they have saved…and that, in the current global environment, American weakness is contributing to a rising tide of conflict that will undermine economic growth.”

It is time for a debate about the state of our military, and its historic underfunding. 

It is time to tell the truth to the American People that leaders of both parties have gutted our defenses because they refused to impose spending discipline on other areas of government. 

It is time to get real about the fact that while our enemies are building ships, we are reducing the size of our fleet. That while fanatics are growing their armies, ours is at risk of being reduced to dangerous lows.

Those numbers should be open for debate. But let there be no debate about the vital role American defense forces play in securing the interests of the free world.

Our fundamental obligation is to keep the American People safe. It is the foundation of our compact between government and our people.

We need to rebuild our national defense. This will surely require hundreds of billions of dollars. But money alone will not secure our country. We have to change the defense culture.

Military planners too often plan for the next war based on the events of the last war. We entered World War II with a battleship Navy for what turned out to be a Carrier War.
The fundamental question is: what are the threats of the future? The size of our military…our investments in weapons systems and aircraft… every decision should be driven by the answers to these questions.

For the longest time America has sized its military to fight wars on two different fronts. 

Military planners will tell you that a one-war strategy is really a no war strategy because of the risk of opportunistic aggression when America is fighting on another front.

Today our military is not positioned to meet a two-war strategy. And the reality is, due to the threats we face, we need a military with the capacity to fight one major war AND respond to several other serious contingencies of various sizes in overlapping geographic regions.

We must prioritize our long-strike capabilities. We must move quickly on innovations like the railgun before nations like China gain a tactical advantage that would deny access to non-permissive waters. We must harden our satellite infrastructure, defending it against weapons attacks, jamming and cyber-sabotage.

Let no one mistake a call for the rebuilding of our defenses as a call for increased war. 

It’s just the opposite. You avoid war by demonstrating an overwhelming capability to win it.

The relative stability of the Eisenhower and Reagan years prove this very point. The instability of the Obama years prove it just as well.

In order to fund our defense needs, it is imperative that we launch a new era of economic growth. Our success abroad is directly tied to our success at home.

We are in an era of slow economic growth because government has grown too large, regulations have grown too intrusive, and the president has prioritized part-time work over full-time positions. The fact is we have 750,000 fewer full-time jobs in America today than we had at the start of the recession.

We need to reduce taxes and regulations, and bring prosperity to Main Street and not just Wall Street. 

If we do, we will not only grow the economy, but also tax revenue – revenue needed to invest in our national security.

I have spoken about realities we must confront. But let me say a few words about the men and women we call upon to confront them.

America is blessed. We have the most professional military in the world. For most of our history, it has been an all-volunteer force. We attract to the military great patriots who love our country, and who serve it with honor and distinction.

As a former captain in the Air Force, I know the global good done by those who wear the uniform of our country.

As a former governor, I am acutely aware of the sacrifice made by our soldiers, sailors, airmen and our marines. At the height of the surge in Iraq, I must have sent a letter, made a phone call, attended a funeral, or visited a military hospital every week to pay my respects to the bereaved families, or to visit a warrior wounded on the field of battle. I traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan to visit our troops in their respective theaters of war.

The single greatest factor in creating a world safe for freedom is the heroism of men and women who have worn the uniform, and who wear it today.

Those here entering the service should be proud. 

I have leveled criticism today at Washington for its poor planning, for not dedicating the resources needed to defend our nation. But I have no criticism for those who choose to serve. I have no criticism for the young cadet in the audience today who knows the great cost borne by warriors in recent years, and who chooses to serve regardless.

And it must be said, as you enter the military, you will have access to the most seasoned combat veterans who will lead you and train you.
They have over a decade of lessons learned, of tactical insight from successes and failures, and that knowledge will make you better officers.

And for all the challenges I have discussed here today about the state of our armed forces, I am confident we are just a few good decisions away from rebuilding and revitalizing our military.

We went from the Iranian hostage crisis and the general chaos of the Carter years in 1979 to the Berlin Wall tumbling down in 1989. It took ten short years to remake the world because we rebuilt our military. We can do it again. We will do it again.

As Americans, we always rise to the challenge when freedom is jeopardized. That is the story of our World War II generation.

In 2000, I took my father to Normandy – a beach he hadn’t laid eyes on since 1944 when he flew 35 missions as a tailgunner on a B-17.

On the quiet hillside above the channel waters are thousands of white markers representing lives lost on the altar of freedom. Each gravestone faces west, looking across the ocean to the America they loved, to the America they defended, to the America they would never return home to.

Today, they look upon us in silent judgment. 

Today, we must ask if we remain a nation worthy of their sacrifice. If we have learned the lessons of their generation – that evil must be confronted, that courage is the greatest weapon in the arsenal of free men and women, that America must always lead if we are to be always free.

At the forefront of a resurgent America will be graduates of this great institution. The men and women of the Citadel are proud patriots. You run to the sound of the guns, and never walk away from a worthy fight. You are our greatest ambassadors for freedom. And freedom needs you now more than ever.

Thank you.


April 6, 2015


The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin: “A Speech Worthy Of A Commander In Chief… A Powerful Argument For His Candidacy…” “At the Citadel today former Texas governor Rick Perry will deliver a speech worthy of a commander in chief. … The result is a sobering description of our national security challenges and a powerful argument for his candidacy, in a race which increasingly focuses on national security.” (The Washington Post, 4/6/15)

  • Rubin: “Perry Is Setting The Bar High — In Rhetoric, In Knowledge And In Vision.” (The Washington Post, 4/6/15)

Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin On Ending Iran Deal: “Perry Is Going Further Than Some Of His Potential 2016 GOP Rivals…” “By pledging to end the deal, Perry is going further than some of his potential 2016 GOP rivals such as Jeb Bush, who have criticized the deal but not said exactly what they would do about it if elected.” (Bloomberg, 4/6/15)

Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek: “A Sweeping Indictment Of President Obama's Foreign Policy And A Presentation Of His Own Proposals To Reassert American Influence Abroad…” “Former Gov.Rick Perry, looking to show he has the military background to inform an alarming worldview, used South Carolina's military college on Monday as the backdrop for a sweeping indictment of President Obama's foreign policy and a presentation of his own proposals to reassert American influence abroad.” (Texas Tribune, 4/6/15)

National Review’s Jim Geraghty: “In His Speech, Perry Went On To Outline A Foreign Policy Vision Patterned After Ronald Reagan’s Policies Of The 1980s.” (National Review, 4/6/15)

  • National Review Headline: “Perry Rips Obama’s ‘State Of Delusion’ On National Security”(National Review, 4/6/15)

Charleston Post And Courier’s Schuyler Kropf: “His Most Far Ranging Foreign Policy Address So Far In South Carolina…” “Choosing The Citadel to deliver his most far ranging foreign policy address so far in South Carolina, the former Texas governor told 300 cadets the Obama administration’s negotiations are doing more to legitimize, instead of curb, Iran’s nuclear goals.” (Charleston Post And Courier, 4/6/15)

WIS-TV’s Will Whitson: “Room Packed With [The Citadel] Cadets.” (Twitter.com, 4/6/15)

Whitson: “Perry Emphasized The Need For A Strong Military And Foreign Policy, Citing The Recent Nuclear Negotiations With Iran.” (WIS-TV, 4/6/15)