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25 octobre 2011 2 25 /10 /octobre /2011 11:50





On Tuesday, Nov. 15 the Heritage Foundation and AEI will join CNN in a Foreign Policy debate with the Republican candidates. I've largely avoided most of the previous debates by doing other things, but I am looking forward to this debate.

I have no expectation the debate will be some major moment in election politics for 2012, but I am hoping someone at Heritage or AEI is sharp enough to ask Mitt Romney about this part of his speech. This paragraph in Mitt Romney's recent Foreign Policy speech tells me two things that I am not sure Mitt Romney actually understands, but I welcome being wrong.

I will enhance our deterrent against the Iranian regime by ordering the regular presence of aircraft carrier task forces, one in the Eastern Mediterranean and one in the Persian Gulf region. I will begin discussions with Israel to increase the level of our military assistance and coordination. And I will again reiterate that Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is unacceptable.

Today, the US Navy has a 1.0 carrier requirement in the Pacific and 1.0 carrier requirement in the Middle East - which has actually grown to something like 1.7 for various reasons. This requirement for US aircraft carriers depends strongly on all 11 carriers, and will not actually be possible once there are only 10 carriers after Enterprise retires next year.

Presumably Mitt Romney didn't completely forget the Pacific requirement when he gave his big foreign policy speech, so if we assume he did not, this policy would add a new requirement for an aircraft carrier in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. That is something altogether new, and by new I am speaking directly regarding a 3 hub carrier presence model vs today's 2 hub presence model for aircraft carriers that focuses only on the Pacific Ocean and Middle East/Indian Ocean.

Mitt Romney is basically saying, whether knowingly or not, that the US Navy needs 12 aircraft carrier strike groups, because in order to have 3 sustained aircraft carrier hubs, the nation needs 12 aircraft carriers. In the case of aircraft carriers, one means four (one preparing to deploy, one finishing deployment, one on deployment, and one in maintenance). In order to sustain 12 aircraft carriers, the nation would need to build 1 carrier every 4.1 years - which is different than the current schedule which calls for 1 carrier every 5 years and even better than the 1 carrier every 4.5 years the Navy was dealing with under the 11 aircraft carrier requirement.

Such a policy for three hubs of presence might also suggest the US is trading today's cold war era garrison force in Europe for a more offshore carrier force presence in the Mediterranean Sea. The US could certainly drop a number of bases and forward deployed stations throughout Europe and save a lot of money, particularly if we pulled the Army out of Europe, but would the savings legitimately add up to enough to pay for extra aircraft carriers? Is Mitt Romney even suggesting we move from garrison forces in Europe towards a different organizational model in Europe? It is unclear if he knows what he's even talking about, so more data is clearly needed.

Another, perhaps more legitimate question, would be whether the United States actually has a 1.0 requirement for the Mediterranean Sea? Today, I don't see it. Tomorrow? I'm not quite sure I see that either to be honest, no matter what unfolds politically in North Africa or the Western Middle East region. Aircraft carriers would not be my first choice of offshore naval capability desired, because if it was my choice - I'd want amphibious ships instead for their flexibility and utility for a range of operations from the sea.

I honestly have no idea what Mitt Romney has planned or if he even has a plan. I also do not know if Mitt Romney actually means anything he has said to date in his Foreign Policy speech.

What I do see though is that it appears to me that Mitt Romney is positioning himself to be a navalist candidate in the upcoming election. On November 15, that debate might flesh out some details of Mitt Romney's navalist vision - and I for one am interested (for the first time - ever) what Mitt Romney has to say.

Final Thought

Folks who claim President Obama's record on foreign policy or military affairs will help or hurt him in the upcoming election are ignoring all political history since the cold war. George Bush Sr. had two big military victories, the first in Panama and later in the most spectacular victory in modern US military history - the First Gulf War in Iraq. Bush Sr. still lost to Bill Clinton in 1992.

Bill Clinton suffered the disaster in Somalia and still went on to be reelected in 1996, and despite what was discussed as a victory over Kosovo, Al Gore lost in 2000.

Bush Jr. had what I would call the greatest strategic blunder in American history - fighting two ground wars in Asia at the same time, and was still reelected in 2004. Despite Iraq getting better before 2008, McCain got killed by Barack Obama in 2008 in an election that had nothing to do with wars or foreign policy - despite the US being 7 years into a war while also watching a rising China.

Obama faces the same reality. Despite pulling out of Iraq, or surging troops into Afghanistan, or killing Osama bin Laden, or starting a global drone war that includes bombing Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and even helping regime change in Libya - none of it will actually matter come election day. It doesn't even matter that Obama recently sent the Army into Uganda. The 2012 election will be decided almost entirely on employment rates and economic issues. That doesn't mean foreign policy and military affairs don't matter, only that those issues won't matter to the vast majority of voters relative to other pressing issues facing the American people right now.

For better or worse, the only military issue the Obama administration will be judged by is the results of the super committee that sets the amount of cuts for the DoD, and establishes military force structure for the future beginning in FY13 discussions. In today's political environment, more than anything else - that super committee result will be the military issue that gets the most attention by the average American voter in a political context heading into the election. I believe that for the candidates, their military policies will be compared opposite to the super committee budget result - a result that will be framed politically as the defacto Obama position on military affairs despite anything else listed on the operational side of the President's resume.

Food for thought.

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