- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Note to President Obama: Stop pretending you’re a military genius. “Commander in chief” is simply a title, not a skill set.

In Monday night’s foreign policy debate, Mr. Obama mocked Republican challenger Mitt Romney for daring to discuss the dangerous diminution of American naval assets to levels of a century ago. “Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed,” said Mr. Obama. “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.” Rarely has a president come across as more petulant on such a serious topic.

Mr. Obama meant to belittle Mr. Romney by comparing his ship metric to a children’s game, but Mr. Romney was speaking with a shorthand familiar to all military specialists — except, apparently, Mr. Obama. Until this year, Navy planners spoke of building up to a 313-ship fleet. The Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan attached to the 2012 budget request projected the addition of 57 new ships by 2017. Last January, the Defense Department scaled this back to 41 vessels with planners abandoning all hope of reaching 313. This was the background to Mr. Romney’s comment, and it demonstrates he knows more about how the military works than Mr. Obama.

The “horses and bayonets” line was supposed to evoke images of wars gone by, but the jape is backfiring on Mr. Obama. Critics recalled the innovative use of horses by special operators in Afghanistan, where the rocky terrain often makes travel by Jeep difficult. Soldiers and Marines objected that they still grasp the spirit of the bayonet. Bayonets remain part of the military inventory, doubling in the field as a general-purpose knife. There are undoubtedly more of them now than 100 years ago when the land force was seven times smaller. Last year, the Defense Department issued a solicitation for 40,000 new blades as a 100 percent small-business set-aside. Mr. Obama’s laugh line was some small-business owner’s livelihood.

The condescending lecture about “ships that go under water” was supposed to create the image of Mr. Obama as a great strategic leader, but his record proves he’s anything but. As a senator in 2007, he adamantly opposed the successful surge strategy that won the war in Iraq. As president, he launched a surge in Afghanistan that has been a high-casualty failure. He is radically depleting the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal which fatally undercuts the credibility of his promises to extend deterrence to worried states on Iran’s periphery. He claims to have won the war against al Qaeda while giving encouragement to radical Islamists in Egypt who are pursuing the same strategic goals as Osama bin Laden. He is shifting the U.S. military focus to the Pacific at a time when the Middle East is becoming greatly destabilized. He has reduced America’s presence in space while competitor states expand theirs.

As China works to launch a blue-water fleet, Mr. Obama continues to sink plans for the force that could dissuade them from even trying. Mr. Obama may not count ships, but Beijing certainly does.

The Washington Times