Political Animal


January 24, 2012 1:05 PM Leave the Navy alone

By Steve Benen

The only thing that bothers me more than Mitt Romney’s falsehoods is when Romney repeats the falsehoods after they’ve been proven untrue.

In last night’s debate, the former governor, who’s routinely struggled with the basics of military and national security policy, complained, “[W]e keep on shrinking our Navy. Our Navy is now smaller than any time since 1917.”

Romney backer John Bolton raised the same concern in a Wall Street Journal op-ed: “The Navy has only 285 ships today, the fewest since World War I, and it is straining to uphold its unique global responsibilities.”

The problem isn’t with the data, per se, but with the metric. Romney and his campaign want to give the public the impression that the Obama administration is somehow scaling back the military, leaving us vulnerable. But as multiple fact-checks have made clear since the Republican campaign starting pushing this line, the claim is wildly misleading.

[E]ven by that standard, Obama’s Navy has more ships than at any point in the last four years of the Bush administration. The Navy’s downsized fleet was a result of a decades-long reorganization rather than any Obama administration policy. More to the point, we’re getting a lot more bang for our buck — we’ve swapped dreadnoughts, monitors, and 50-gun frigates for air-craft carriers and nuclear submarines. Which would you want in a fight?

And this once again leaves us with one of two options. Romney is either (1) confused about military policy, and didn’t do his homework before popping off on a subject he doesn’t understand; or (2) trying to deliberately fool voters, and counting on the media not to call him on it.

It’s an either/or dynamic that comes up all the time with this guy.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • c u n d gulag on January 24, 2012 1:16 PM:

    Well, Mitt IS right about one thing - we make far fewer biplanes ever since that Liberal Fascist FDR became President.

  • Trollop on January 24, 2012 1:19 PM:

    Yes, Obama sent all our sail making jobs to the 18th century too.

  • Burr Deming on January 24, 2012 1:19 PM:

    Okay, so the Navy statistic is basically a lie. The deeper problem Romney has, and more generally conservatives have, is that they ignore their own greatest rhetorical strength. But then, what do I know. I'm not a conservative.

  • Steve P on January 24, 2012 1:27 PM:

    How about a REAL fiscal conservative?
    When the Air Corps appropriation came up, Calvin Coolledge was reported as saying "Why don't we buy just one aeroplane--and let the aviators take turns flying it?"

  • kc on January 24, 2012 1:28 PM:

    Well, strategy no. 2 has certainly been shown to be foolproof.

  • AndThenThere'sThat on January 24, 2012 1:31 PM:

    [W]e keep on shrinking our Navy. Our Navy is now smaller than any time since 1917.

    Romney is right. How will we continue bottomless spending on global policing if we don't have enough ships to police with! As a taxpayer, I demand more ships.

  • kitsune on January 24, 2012 1:33 PM:

    We don't have any coal barges anymore! We used to dominate the world in coal barges! Damn, Obama.

    I would like someone to ask Mitt who he would pick in a battle between our 1917 and our 1941 Navy and today's. One side has way more ships, Mitt. That's the metric of success, right?

  • Jon on January 24, 2012 1:33 PM:

    "(2) trying to deliberately fool voters, and counting on the media not to call him on it."

  • Josef K on January 24, 2012 1:47 PM:

    I really hope its #2. The prospect of it being #1 and this...person...being allowed access to nuclear weapons is simply to terrifying to contempt sober.

  • flyonthewall on January 24, 2012 1:51 PM:

    He forgot to mention we also have less horse calvarymen and horses.

  • zeitgeist on January 24, 2012 1:57 PM:

    i greatly enjoyed that PolitiFact tweeted this to #FLDebate as a "Pants on Fire" even while the debate was still going on.

  • g on January 24, 2012 2:01 PM:

    Lying? Mitt?

  • T2 on January 24, 2012 2:08 PM:

    there's no "either, or" to it. He'll lie to get elected, just like most politicians. The Media lets them, so they do. To the ears of the FOX Nation, it's not lies unless it comes out of a Dem mouth.

  • Tom S on January 24, 2012 2:09 PM:

    Jeezie peezy! One of today's carrier task forces could sink the entire US Navy of WWI and barely break a sweat.

  • 2Manchu on January 24, 2012 2:13 PM:

    One Ohio-class ballistic missle sub carries 24 Trident D-5 missles. Each Trident has six 500 kiloton warheads. That comes out to 144 warheads per sub. And there are fourteen subs in service.

    That's more.than the total destructive power of the United States Navy from 1776 to the start of the Cold War.

    Also, there are currently 14 aircraft carriers in the world. One with the French, one with the Russians, and one being fitted out by the Chinese. The remaining eleven are all in the US Navy. And each one has an air wing almost twice as large as any of the other three.

    Seems to me that we are doing pretty well on the naval front.

  • cwolf on January 24, 2012 2:14 PM:

    Maybe Romney would be able to keep his magic shorts clean if he bothered to add in the 244 cutters and 1,850 boats belonging to the Coast Guard. This is the agency that protects US shores.

    OTOH, The US navy is plain & simply put - a job killing overpriced, corrupt doomsday machine that prowls the worlds waterways, menacing any country that refuses to kiss its ring. And, it is useless for the purpose of improving citizens"...life, liberty & pursuit of happiness..." or the "General Welfare".

  • majun on January 24, 2012 2:15 PM:

    The composition of the Navy today is largely a result of policies that were formulated before Bush II became President, but were mostly carried out under the Bush Administration. Now, if there was one thing that the GOP pushed during the Bush years it was that our national security was in the best possible hands under Bush. Anybody who questioned his national security policies was immediately branded a treasonous coward by the right wing noise machine.

    I realize that over the past three years it has become increasingly politically incorrect to even mention Duhbya's name in regards to competitive politics, and the public memory is extremely short, but does Romney really expect people to be that credulous???

  • berttheclock on January 24, 2012 2:18 PM:

    Yeah, kind of a shame we no longer have the USS New Jersey to take sides in a civil war, while on a peace mission, and fire into Muslim neighborhoods surrounding Beirut, thus, turning the Muslims in the Middle East against us. Yes indeed Mitt, do bring back those "peace keepers".

  • RT on January 24, 2012 2:18 PM:

    I wonder what Bain would do with the Navy.

  • boatboy_srq on January 24, 2012 2:21 PM:

    The other problem with Romney's metric is how long it takes for a ship to be built and commissioned. For a CVN, for example, the timeframe is something like six years from keel laid to fully commissioned warship - and closer to ten years if one considers the appropriations process preceding it. Smaller ships take somewhat less time, but we're still talking years for almost anyting. For a "smaller Navy" metric to mean Obama slacked on Navy procurements, he'd have to have been elected in 2002. And with a resurgent Democratic Congressional presence only between 2006-2010, it's hard to pin force reduction there either since that's too recent for all but the fastest-built ships. Conversely, the alternative would be a massive decommissioning of naval vessels in the last two years; such an event hasn't happened. If Romney's unhappy that the USN is "shrinking" somehow, then he has only his own party to blame.

  • jonas on January 24, 2012 2:25 PM:

    Good grief. As a number of people have already pointed out, measuring naval power by counting the number of commissioned vessels these days is like measuring GDP by the number of smokestacks a country has.

    The stupid, it burns!

  • Ron Byers on January 24, 2012 2:30 PM:

    I live down the road from the Warrensburg, MO. Warrensburg is the home of Whitman Air Force Base. Whiteman houses the B2 Stealth Bomber. Any one of those bombers can sink any foreign navy on the planet all by itself. Except to fight Somali pirates why do we have a navy anyway?

    As to whether Romney is knows better or is deliberately lying, I would point out that John Bolton is Romney's advisor. I know he knows better, but he is not above lying to Romney who will repeat anything he is told.

    I have oome to the conclusion that Romney is not receiving good value from his political advisors. They simply do not know enough to advise a top tier Presidential Candidate. Romney's sin is he is too stupid to realize he is not being properly handled.

  • Mudge on January 24, 2012 2:32 PM:

    The German, British and Japanese navies are smaller too. Ship to ship warfare is rather passe. Today it's all about missiles and airplanes, not bombardment or torpedos. Mitt's ancestors had more wives back in 1877, the downsizing didn't hurt his family. Smaller can be better.

  • RalfW on January 24, 2012 2:34 PM:

    Maybe you won't say it, Steve, but he's lying. Daily. Hourly.

    And not the old school politician shading or fudging.

    He's full of it. He'll say anything that seems remotely plausible no matter how false to get what he wants.

    But the ends don't justify the means. A liar seeking office will be a liar in office. He needs to be called out, so less coyness and more naming it, please.

  • beejeez on January 24, 2012 2:50 PM:

    Fortunately for us those scrappy truth-seekers in the liberal mass media are always there to challenge such lies!

  • schtick on January 24, 2012 2:56 PM:

    These tealiban hacks that never served a day and worked so hard not to. They know all about the military, don't they? They know how to send other people's children to war to die and telling everyone else they must make sacrifices. The dimwit dems are guilty of it, too, because they go along with it.

  • TCinLA on January 24, 2012 3:13 PM:

    Romney is either (1) confused about military policy, and didnít do his homework before popping off on a subject he doesnít understand; or (2) trying to deliberately fool voters, and counting on the media not to call him on it.

    It's not either/or, it's both.

  • biggerbox on January 24, 2012 3:21 PM:

    Maybe you could believe it was (1) for the first, say, dozen times. But I think after that, you have to assume it's (2).

    Which means it's been (2) for months now.

    Lord Romney lies.

  • st john on January 24, 2012 4:45 PM:

    So Steve, will NBC (not MSNBC) report on this and other massive lies in the evening news in prime time? And, report every time one of the Rs lies or misleads us?

    I know you are the new guy on the block, but if you are willing to challenge your new employer, you will demonstrate real courage. Maybe you can even get Rachel to challenge her employer, NBC, to allow her on the Network News with the lies. I've been hammering on this for months: call out the MSM to report the facts and the lies in a way that TV Americans can hear it.

    Just a thought!

  • Cha on January 24, 2012 4:47 PM:

    Mitt Romney is a sociopathic, pathological liar. And,what does that say about the Mormon Church?

  • Another Steve on January 24, 2012 4:51 PM:

    "Why, under Reagan, a Nimitz class aircraft carrier was the size of a small town and now, under the ruinous policies of the Obama administration, a Nimitz carrier has been shrunken down to the size of a rowboat!"

    Wouldn't be much dumber than anything else he's said on defense. Because Romney's proven over and over again that on defense and foreign policy, he's a dilettante's dilettante. He's totally dismissive of it, thinks it's silly that a presidential candidate should know enough to say something substantive. Just one more place to make up made up things to say to the rubes.

    Heck, plenty of time to figure it all out for real once the election's won. After all, it couldn't be any harder to learn than the office supply business was. Whew! Now there was a complex subject for you!

  • cmdicely on January 24, 2012 6:56 PM:

    Also, there are currently 14 aircraft carriers in the world. One with the French, one with the Russians, and one being fitted out by the Chinese. The remaining eleven are all in the US Navy. And each one has an air wing almost twice as large as any of the other three.

    This is not correct, there are more 14 carriers, and more than 11 of them are American; the US has 11 supercarriers (10 Nimitz-class + 1 Enterprise class CVNs) and 9 amphibious assault ships (8 Wasp class and 1 Tarawa-class.)

    Brazil has one small carrier
    France has one small carrier and three amphibious assault ships
    India has one small carrier
    Italy has two small carriers
    Russia has one carrier
    Spain has two small carriers and one amphibious assault ship
    The UK has two amphibious assault ships
    China has one carrier somewhat near readiness

    (The US supercarriers individually far outclass any of the other carriers in air strength, and most of the carriers in the rest-of-world forces are individually about on par with the US amphibious assault ships in air strength, whether they are notionally pure aircraft carriers or amphibious assault ships themselves.)

    Russia's one carrier and China's in-progress carrier have somewhat bigger air wings (potentially, in China's case) than most of the small carriers and amphibious assault ships, but still much smaller than the US supercarriers.

  • 2Manchu on January 24, 2012 10:28 PM:


    Good point. I was only including those carriers that would be classified as "CV" or "CVN" by the US Navy.

  • robert mcclellan on January 25, 2012 8:58 AM:

    This actually shows Mittís real problem. Newt talks about welfare queens and the yokels scream for blood; Mitt talks about the Navy and 1917 and their eyes glaze over.