Streetwise Professor

October 23, 2012

Snark Doesn’t Change the Facts

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 12:56 pm

Obama was at his petulant, condescending worst in the debate last night, this response to Romney’s statement about the declining number of ships in the Navy was the worst-of-the-worst:

“I think Gov. Romney maybe has not spent enough time looking at how our military works,” Obama shot back. “We also have fewer horses and bayonets because nature of our military has changed. “There are these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.”

Remind me about that likeability thing again.  Not seeing it.

I’m pretty sure that Romney knows about aircraft carriers and submarines.  The issue is whether we have enough of those things now, not whether they are more capable than 1917-era Dreadnoughts.  Yes, it is an issue of capabilities: there is an intense debate whether after the precipitous decline in ship count in the past decade, we have enough capability. Snark aside, there is a serious case to be made that the Navy’s capabilities have declined dangerously, especially given the strategic re-orientation away from Europe and towards Asia, China, the Pacific, and the Indian Ocean.

Due to the precision and stealth revolutions, our platforms have much more capability now than in the early-90s.  A 600 ship Navy is not a necessity.

But at any time a large number of ships are being repaired or refurbished or modernized.  Moreover, the world’s oceans haven’t gotten any smaller, and the speed of ships hasn’t gotten that much greater, and American interests still touch on every sea.  Indeed, with an increased focus on the Pacific, the tyranny of distance is even greater than when the Atlantic and Med were the main theaters.  Especially inasmuch as the Navy will have to operate with less land-based air support in the Pacific vastness than in European or even Middle Eastern waters.

So ship count matters.  We have more capable ships, but a 20 percent increase (say) in combat power doesn’t lead to a 20 percent decline in the need for hulls.  There are indivisibilities.  A vastly capable carrier can’t be in two places at once, and we may well face multiple crises at widely dispersed places around the globe.

It is also particularly rich for Obama to lecture anyone on military matters.  He has no military experience.  He didn’t get any in the Illinois State Senate, that’s for sure, and didn’t get much more in the US Senate.

This is, moreover, a guy who calls Navy Corpsmen “corpsemen”, and whose party’s testimonial to the US military at its last national convention featured a huge photo of a line of ships.  Russian ships.  He, and most of his party, have zero interest in the military.  The butch posing is revealing.  A retort that is clever rather than wise: superficially impactful rather than thoughtful.

This comment drew high fives from Obama supporters, and it was great debate snark.  But methinks that debate snark is a negative when competing for the mushy middle that will decide the election, especially coming from a man whose military bona fides are thin to non-existent.   Snark doesn’t change the fact that there is a serious question as to whether we have naval capabilities-and the number of ships-commensurate with our strategic needs.

UpdateThis Max Boot post provides a good overview, and a reminder that, as Stalin said, quantity has a quality all its own.  It is worth remembering that during WWII Germany had a substantial quality advantage in armor and some aircraft, but that was irrelevant given the quantities of inferior weapons arrayed against it.

Also it is worth checking out Information Dissemination generally, and this (prescient) post on fleet size particularly.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. IMO, nuclear subs are the true capital ships. The USN ASW capability is well and truly atrophied. OTOH, it’s not like Chinese subs ever leave port.

    Comment by So? — October 23, 2012 @ 10:48 pm

  2. “You want us to have supermarkets? Take a look outside. There are these buildings, called ‘restaurants’, where food can be purchased, cooked and ready to eat.” Etc.

    Comment by Jack — October 25, 2012 @ 10:20 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress