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October 24, 2012

Specious Argument of the Day

Here:

In 1916, the US controlled roughly 11% of the world’s naval power. This is an impressive number that ranks the US third in naval strength behind the UK (34%) and Germany (19%), and just ahead of France (10%). What about the US navy in 2011? In 2011, the US controlled roughly 50% of the world’s naval power putting it in a comfortable lead in naval power ahead of Russia (11%).

The US Navy has decreased in absolute size as Governor Romney argues (although this decline has been ongoing since the end of Cold War). U.S. warships are more powerful now than in the past, as President Obama implied. However, neither the number of warships nor the power of our ships is what is most important for understanding military and political influence. It is relative military power that matters most.

The authors get it half right. It's not the size of our Navy relative to other navies that matters, but the size/capabilities of our Navy relative to their mission.

It's worth noting here that the scope of the mission is fluid - in an instant it can change, and ships can't be ordered up and built all that quickly. There are also quality of life considerations that arguably didn't apply in 1916. Modern military families can't imagine having a father or mother gone for years at a time, as was sometimes the case in WWI and WWII.

Any calculation of whether our modern Navy is "big enough" is necessarily dependent upon our values. What things do we want the Navy to be able to do? How much are we willing to spend on those tasks? What is our risk tolerance? This is a crucial question because military might is (at least to some extent) a function of redundancy. In war - and in peace - equipment grows old and breaks.

How much of our fleet is battle-ready?

I have no quarrel with the notion that this isn't simply a question of numbers or even of composition. But the idea that our "share of naval power" is a meaningful metric is simplistic nonsense. If our goal is to be able to project power effectively over a given area (whatever that may be), our allies' capabilities have to matter. If they unilaterally disarm, that reduces the number of ships we can call upon in a crisis.

It's probably fair to say that Barack Obama's idea of mission scope and Mitt Romney's are very different. This matters, because the whole question of "big enough" depends on "what do you want the Navy to do"? By their respective values, our current Navy probably seems too big to Obama and too small to Romney.

As a final aside, during the 2008 campaign, Obama promised to bring the troops home on a 16 month schedule that was wildly unrealistic and - as it turned out - unachievable in light of both logistical and security concerns:

Pulling nearly all U.S. troops and equipment out of Iraq in 16 months is "physically impossible," says a top officer involved in briefing the President-elect on U.S. operations in Iraq. That schedule would create a bottleneck of equipment and troops in the south of Iraq and Kuwait where brigades repair, clean and load vehicles and weapons for the trip home, said the official. Others say the U.S. could conceivably pull out on that time scale, although that would require leaving more equipment behind. A more important concern for officers is that the security gains in Iraq would be put at risk if troops were withdrawn before the Iraqi security forces are in a position to protect their own communities and borders.

In the end, Obama's much touted 16 month withdrawal grew to 18 months, and even then was achieved only by redefining the remaining brigades from "combat" to "advise and assist" and leaving a larger remain behind element than planned:

As we reported in July 2008, Obama’s 16 month withdrawal plan was not realistic. To save face, President Obama redesignated the 7 remaining combat brigades still in Iraq after his artificial 16 month deadline as “Advise and Assist Brigades,” and declared his scheduled end to the war in Iraq on August 31, 2011

This is what happens when we fail to consider our actual capabilities against our goals and build in contingency for the hundreds of things that will go wrong when an abstract plan meets concrete realities.

Those interested in exploring both the size and composition of our current Navy will enjoy these interactive charts.

Posted by Cassandra at October 24, 2012 12:09 PM

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Comments

I'll take the prerogative of expanding my concerns from the naval to the military.

Is it possible to make reasoned judgments as to capability if we cannot state our goals as first and foremost limited? Limited as in we are not broke but in hock; limited as in having a hammer does not make every problem a nail; limited as we have a responsibility to defend ourselves and no others. If we have some inordinate desire to insinuate ourselves everywhere to right wrongs, bring peace, justice and democracy, then we are woefully under militarized – and insane. Sending rapid response teams to quell disturbances among the Trobrianders should not be among our 'goals'. Lest anyone think I'm having fun being facetious I'd have thought as much of anyone who'd have said we'd be ten years in Afghanistan... making it safe for the Taliban.

No capability is up to the proliferation of our desires – so first we curb our desires.

Posted by: George Pal at October 24, 2012 02:35 PM

Sorry, but for my money neither Obama nor Romney can name the pointy end of the boat. That's why they (and we) must rely on people that do for guidance as to how the United States Navy can (and must) remain history's most potent fighting force.

Posted by: spd rdr at October 24, 2012 02:46 PM

Obama is not a serious or thoughtful man. He makes pronouncements of what he wants and then expects others to make his "vision" happen. You have to look no further than his signed failed executive order closing Gitmo by January 2012, NOT!

Posted by: TexasMom2012 at October 24, 2012 02:53 PM

spd, yr lnk s brkn.
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at October 24, 2012 03:50 PM

Obama also overstates the value of technology. Numbers have a quality all their own, as Admiral Nagumo learned at Midway, when he lost four of these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them, to technologically inferior examples of those planes, but which were in sufficient numbers to do the deed.

Technologically modern combat ships (and their support shipping) are critical, but only in sufficient number to survive a determined attack and complete their missions. Lots of times, in an era where returning to port for repair and refit, and turning out new examples, will likely occur after the war is long ended, and perhaps lost.

Eric HInes

Posted by: E Hines at October 24, 2012 04:04 PM

spd, yr lnk s brkn.
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at October 24, 2012 03:50 PM

How typical of me.
Here you go:
LINK

Posted by: spd rdr at October 24, 2012 04:28 PM

George's and Eric's points are particularly well taken.

The phrase "boots on the ground" encapsulates one of the biggest lessons from Iraq/Afghanistan. Tools and weapons don't win wars. They help, but we need people too.

A lot of optimistic assumptions are made about "force multipliers". Some of them turn out to be valid, though often the multiplier is smaller than assumed.

As for spd's point, I agree that neither Romney nor Obama is particularly well versed in matters military. But then they have advisors for that. I doubt even most folks in the active forces think all that deeply about global strategy and the equilibrium point between mission capability and cost.

The thing is, given that most civilians and politicians don't know much about this, what's the wisest default position? I would argue that when you don't know something, the wisest default position on a matter as important as national security is "better safe than sorry". And if you're trying to figure out a simple metric for "what's safe", looking to history is not a bad benchmark.

The Navy's mission certainly hasn't declined with the passing years. Nor has the size of the oceans the USMC's "sister service" (ducking spd's smacking hand) patrols. And ships are still fairly slow beasties. It takes *time* to get to Africa or Southeast Asia from here.

So in what world does it makes sense (as a rough measure) to conclude that we need *fewer* ships than we did in 1916? One of the odd things about technology is something I call the "housework effect": having more capability leads to mission creep. In the 1800s, housewives might take the carpets outside once a year to beat and air them. The rest of the time they were swept and they got plenty dirty.

Now we have vaccuum cleaners. Do we vacuum our rugs once a year? No - we do it daily or weekly in addition to shampooing, spot treating, and deodorizing at regular intervals. We do more, because we *can* do more.

Which kind of leads us back to George's point about values and goals.

IMO, this is just one of several things Romney has said that struck me as smart, once you set aside the ignorant snark and actually think about it.

Posted by: Commissar Cassandrovna at October 24, 2012 05:37 PM

Of course in 1916 we did not have a "Two Ocean Navy" or global responsibilities.We do now, and for the foreseeable future. Individual unit capabilities notwithstanding, the fleet (Which includes Uncle Sams Misguided Children) need force levels appropriate to deal with the mission set. To do otherwise is to risk our national existance.

Posted by: CAPT Mongo at October 24, 2012 06:56 PM

While neither Mr 0 or Mr R have actual military experience, I personally believe that there is a significant difference in how each looks at defense and implementation of policy.


0, after almost 4 years on the job has proven, time and time again that no matter what his advisors - "experts" in their fields - have told him, he always knows what is best. And it has led to disasterous consequences repeatedly. Romney, apparently has been a sucessful team leader and has melded diverse groups and organizations into functional operational groups that met goals. I don't think Mr 0 has that going for him, even after nearly 4 years of steering the ship of state into the rocks and shoals.


We have had the hull ripped open below the waterline; the circ water pumps are taking suction from the bilges and the water is rising. Meanwhile, the "Captain" is blaming the navigator for setting a bad course, the engineers for giving him the power to steam into dangerous water, the WepO for not taking out the threats before they materialize....he has not blamed the mess cooks yet, but they too will get some blame soon.


0 is an unmitigated disaster. If we do not vote for the good of our country, we deserve what happens. Obama was voted in and it proved we were not racists. Now we have to vote him out to prove we are not idiots.


Greetings to BF in GA and CAPT Mongo.

Posted by: kbob_in_katy at October 24, 2012 09:27 PM


Obama is not a serious or thoughtful man. He makes pronouncements of what he wants and then expects others to make his "vision" happen. You have to look no further than his signed failed executive order closing Gitmo by January 2012, NOT!

Posted by: John323 at October 24, 2012 11:09 PM

Commissar Cassandrovna, you miss a very important point about "force multipliers": They don't multiply anything except your ability to kill people and break things. When your objective is "nation-building" rather than actually winning wars the way we last did in WWII, all that additional firepower might as well never be bought, because you and this country's enemies know it will never be used.

Had we fought the WOT as an actual war, where the objective is to kill enough of your enemy and everything he holds dear to convince him the game isn't worth the price, we wouldn't be where we are today as opposed to where we were (at least in regard to our declared enemies) at the end of WWII.

Half-hearted tactics always yield whole-hearted defeat.

Posted by: SDN at October 25, 2012 11:45 AM

A hearty hail with a salute on the side back at ya Kbob! And one for all members of Uncle Sam's Yacht Club past and present, and to those in the Services who were/are condemned to tread terra firma.

P.S. As far as those mess cooks go, and if past performance is any indication of future results, fear not. In the spirit of a failed system of centralized planning and redistribution of poverty for all, THE Ø will undoubtedly commission the mess cooks.

May THE Ø contemplate the reasons for his eviction from the White House as he and his herd of cohorts both in and out of the Congress redistribute their malignant carcasses to Lake Woebegone.

May these events come to pass.

Amen.

Posted by: bthun at October 25, 2012 11:46 AM

"May these events come to pass."

Amen.

Aaaaa-Men!

Lady and Gentlemen...
START your engines!

Posted by: Snarkammando at October 25, 2012 03:45 PM

Had we fought the WOT as an actual war, where the objective is to kill enough of your enemy and everything he holds dear to convince him the game isn't worth the price, we wouldn't be where we are today as opposed to where we were (at least in regard to our declared enemies) at the end of WWII.

There's a lot of truth in that, as depressing as it is to contemplate. I don't know how we apply conventional warfighting tactics to an asymmetrical warfare situation, though certainly enough has been written on the subject.

Some of it by Very Smart People who are now taking to the newspapers to argue that we've "won" in Afghanistan because...

[wait for it]

...we still have boots on the ground.

And no SOFA.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 25, 2012 05:32 PM

I don't know how we apply conventional warfighting tactics to an asymmetrical warfare situation....

We don't. Intel, cyber, informants, drones, SOF, anything that gets bullets into the appropriate heads. And we worry less about collateral damage and more about killing our enemies and those who harbor them.

The asymmetrics are fighting a total war to destroy us. We need to fight a total war to defend ourselves and to destroy these enemies. That doesn't require, of necessity, conventional tactics. As SDN noted, half-hearted tactics brings whole defeat--which is our destruction.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at October 25, 2012 07:55 PM

"Posted by: E Hines at October 25, 2012 07:55 PM"

Yup.

If history tells us nothing else, I think we should agree to save the expense of nation-building exercises for nations that were built and civilized to something closely resembling that of modern, Western standards prior to the initiation of hostilities.

For all others, know but one thing, attack me/mine, suffer dearly and disproportionately amongst you/yours.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Posted by: bthunski-will-fight-for-beets at October 25, 2012 08:14 PM

For all others, know but one thing, attack me/mine, suffer dearly and disproportionately amongst you/yours.

Amen, Brother.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at October 25, 2012 09:02 PM

kbob in katy,
The Cypher Pres. has the best of all credentials: He is a community organizer. That, in and of itself, gives him experience among diverse groups. It matters not that Romney guided companies out of troubled waters caused by inept leadership. To say that about Teh Won is just...mind-boggling.

I might need a tingle adjustment.

Posted by: Chris Matthews inner child at October 26, 2012 07:24 AM

"I might need a tingle adjustment."

Chrissy, I've your complimentary adjustment rightcheer...

Say CheeeEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

pppppppt!

Posted by: Reddy Kilowatt at October 26, 2012 07:42 AM

Madame Commissara Cassandra,

You stated: "I don't know how we apply conventional warfighting tactics to an asymmetrical warfare situation,..."

Allow me to offer salution. Kill them all and let their respective god sort it out.

For far too long we have failed to recognize two critical things.

1. The Omega Directive - which directs the destruction of life threatening forces.

And more importantly, something that Churchill said many years ago: "The whole history of the world is summed up in the fact that, when nations are strong, they are not always just, and when they wish to be just, they are no longer strong."

I prefer to be strong. YMMV.

Regards,

Proletariat Lacky Kbob


Posted by: kbob_in _Katy at October 28, 2012 09:50 PM

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