During last night’s final presidential debate, Mitt Romney warned that if the sequestration cuts to which President Obama and Congress agreed occurs, the United States Navy will shrink to its lowest size since 1917. At that point in history the United States was not yet a superpower. The world did not yet depend on the pax Americana to keep the seas safe on a global scale.
Obama’s reacted petulantly, mocking Romney and firing off a line about “horses and bayonets” in response.
OBAMA: But I think Gov. Romney maybe hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our military works. You mentioned the Navy, for example. And that we have fewer ships that we had in 1916. Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military has 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 what are our capabilities?
It’s quite possible that Obama displayed his entire understanding of the Navy in the clip above — we have ships on which planes can land and we have “ships” that go under water, called submarines.
Point of fact: US special forces used horses to drive the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. Point of fact: The US military still uses bayonets.
Point of fact: Submarines are not called ships. For historic reasons they are called boats. Another point of fact: Aircraft carriers need smaller surface ships and submarines nearby to defend them in hostile areas. Additionally, there are many missions for which an aircraft carrier might not be the right weapon for the job. After the sacking of the US consulate in Libya, for instance, it might have been helpful to station an amphibious Iwo Jima class carrier off the coast near Benghazi. It would have been more useful than a conventional carrier, and far more useful than the destroyer that President Obama actually dispatched to the area. They can launch attack helos, VTOL aircraft, and thousands of angry Marines if necessary. It still would have needed surface ships and submarines nearby to protect it.
In the clip, Obama said that he did not propose the sequestration that will lead to defense cuts — but he did. He said that the sequestration “will not happen,” but unless he and Congress come up with a deal soon, it will happen. It’s baked in.
But the worst aspect of that clip is when Obama mocks Romney’s warning that the sequestration cuts would reduce our Navy to its smallest size since 1917. Romney spoke a fact and laid a trap which, if the media follows up on it, will end up making Obama look the fool. Obama belittled Romney in the exchange, but in belittling Romney, Obama was really belittling Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
In November 2011, Panetta wrote to Sen. John McCain to answer questions about the impact the sequestration spending cuts will have on the US military. That latter was published in the Navy Times, among other places. In an attachment to the letter, Panetta wrote:
If the sequestration cuts are applied over the next 10 years, a highly unlikely scenario given the upcoming election, they would result in the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest fleet of ships since 1915, and the smallest tactical fighter force in the history of the Air Force, Panetta says.
Romney warned specifically of all of those consequences last night, practically word for word. Obama mocked him. Secretary Panetta would probably like to have a word with him today.
It’s fair to ask two questions: One, does Barack Obama really understand the consequences of the sequestration policy that he has led the nation into? Two, how can any president who believes foreign policy is his strength countenance reducing our military capabilities to such an extent?