As I watched the two candidates square off on foreign policy last night, it reconfirmed for me all my previous opinions. I still don’t like Governor Romney, but the one thing about foreign policy and military affairs is most politician’s don’t really have a clue as to what is involved in it until they are in office, so Governor Romney’s lack of experience is no worse than was President Obama’s four years ago, and President Obama’s performance hasn’t been that special, despite the accolades of the Nobel committee in Oslo. But I am in kind of a unique position to comment on a couple of the points made by the President, supposedly to show how little Governor Romney understands about the military. In my view they actually served to show how little our President understands about the value of the military as an instrument of National power.
The specific response I would like to focus on is this one.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: “Bob, I just need to comment on this. First of all, the sequester is not something that I proposed. It’s something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen. The budget that we’re talking about is not reducing our military spending. It’s maintaining it.But I think Governor Romney maybe hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our military works. You — you mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets — (laughter) — because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.And so the question is not a game of Battleship where we’re counting ships. It’s — it’s what are our capabilities.And so when I sit down with the secretary of the Navy and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we determine how are we going to be best able to meet all of our defense needs in a way that also keeps faith with our troops, that also makes sure that our veterans have the kind of support that they need when they come home. And that is not reflected in the kind of budget that you’re putting forward, because it just don’t work.”
Let's start with the zinger the President tossed out about fewer horses and bayonets. By now, I would guess, almost everyone has been made aware the bayonet remains a primary weapon issued to our soldiers and marines, but I wonder how many know the role horses played in the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan? There is an excellent book, Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan, by Doug Stanton, that details precisely how our Special Forces adapted cavalry tactics and modern weapons to help the Northern Alliance overthrow the Taliban regime. In 2002, one of the most important support requests coming from our Special Tactics airman embedded with the Special Forces with the Northern Alliance was for Western Saddles -- because the Afghanistan ones were so uncomfortable. I doubt the President even knew of these men and their efforts.
Now lets talk about Aircraft Carriers and Nuclear Submarines, since the President chose to point to them as critical ships that would allow us to reduce the size of the Navy. The Aircraft Carrier is a central piece of power projection in the oceans around the world, but it is only one of a flotilla made up of cruisers, frigates, destroyers, tenders, oilers, and submarines needed to protect and supply the carrier as it sails in its area of responsibility. As we reduce the number of ships; the Navy will have to make very hard choices about what ships support the Carrier, and how often those ships can sortie from home port to project a presence in a critical locale. The ability for the Department to project power, render humanitarian relief, or plan and execute the rescue of American’s caught in conflict may not be there when the President answers that 3 AM phone call and then tries to send the Navy. This becomes even more likely as we reduce our overseas bases.
I am reminded of a saying I learned in one of my management courses, “When the only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” As the President reduces the size of the services, the number of ships and aircraft, the locations they are based, the weapons available, and the industrial base in the US that supports them, he is effectively removing the different tools from the tool box available to him, or his successor, to resolve international conflict in a way favorable to US interest when diplomacy fails. This has the net affect of making war more likely, not less.
One last thought – sequestration. The President said he did not propose it and it would not happen? I thought the Administration demanded it as a way to force Congressional action, and the President signed it into law. So I am a bit curious as to how it won’t happen, unless of course Congress passes and the President signs another law undoing it. I wonder if the vaunted fact-checkers that have become so central to media reporting has pointed out this blunder?