In defending Australia’s lower defense spending, U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich on Tuesday referred to President Obama’s retort to Mitt Romney that the U.S. Navy has “things called aircraft carriers … and ships that go underwater.”
While Mr. Obama sounded condescending in his response to Mr. Romney’s warning about a smaller Navy in the third presidential debate, Mr. Bleich sounded authoritative about Australia’s leaner but more effective military.
The ambassador told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that Washington is confident Australia will maintain its role as a regional partner to the United States in the South Pacific, even as it plans to cut defense spending by $5 billion.
“Well, it becomes a concern only if there’s an inability to meet obligations, and one thing we always look at is: It’s not the amount of money that you spend. It’s about capability,” he said.
“As the president was saying recently, we have a lot fewer ships than we used to, but we have much more capable ships, and so it’s really how you spend your money and whether you’re spending it in a way that meets the requirements of the situation.”
He was referring to last week’s testy presidential debate, when Mr. Obama defended the U.S. military against Mr. Romney’s criticism that the president is letting the Navy erode to dangerous levels.
Mr. Obama said the military is smaller but more effective.
“We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines,” he said.
Reporter Emma Alberici on the “Lateline” news program noted that Australia spends about 1.6 percent of gross domestic product on defense, which amounts to more than $20 billion, while the United States spends about 4 percent, or more than $1 trillion.
Earlier this year, Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith defended the planned cuts, saying that Australia is not “taking a free ride” on the back of the United States. He noted that Australia has about 1,500 troops in Afghanistan, making it the largest non-NATO force there.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta are due to visit Australia in November to discuss regional political and defense issues, including the progress on deploying U.S. Marines to a base on Australia’s north coast.
AN ENVOY REMEMBERED
The Greek ambassador and leading Greek-Americans held a graveside service to honor the memory of an American diplomat who saved thousands of Greeks 90 years ago during the Turkish invasion of the ancient city of Smyrna after World War I.
Ambassador Christos Panagopoulos joined Nick Larigakis, president of the American Hellenic Institute in Georgetown’s Oak Hill Cemetery on Oct. 22 at the grave of George Horton, who served as the consul-general in Smyrna when the port city went up in flames after Turkish troops invaded. Horton wrote about the burning of Smyrna in his 1926 book, “The Blight of Asia.”