Nobody Wants to Lose an Aircraft Carrier for Their State

USS John F

Benjamin Friedman says people shouldn’t pay attention to big-think strategy documents like the QDR:

Policy types love strategy documents because they are mostly technocratic idealists. They want government polices to be made by rational processes that reveal national interests, which are then laid out in plans like the QDR. They want policy to be like science. But democratic government is the push and pull of competing ideologies and interests.

Maybe so. When I hear things like that, though, I’m reminded of Keynes’ idea that “It is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil.”

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.

I think there’s some truth to both of these points of view. And with a lot of QDR-talk in the air, I think it is worth refocusing a bit on some of the seamier, less idea-based drivers of policy. Consider this excellent Government Executive report on the QDR:

The report also recommends that one carrier should be based in Mayport Naval Station in Florida — a homeport preference that will renew a heated political battle between the Florida and Virginia delegations in Congress. All carriers assigned to the East Coast are now stationed in Norfolk, Va. after the 2007 decommissioning of the USS John F. Kennedy, which called Mayport home.

“The reason for moving one of the nuclear carriers from Norfolk to Mayport is so they’re not all lined up in one place like sitting ducks,” Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said in a statement after CongressDaily posted the QDR Friday night. “Beyond that, this is huge for the North Florida economy.”

Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., issued a statement Saturday emphasizing that the QDR is a planning tool that does not have the force of law. “I continue to believe that removing an aircraft carrier from Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, would not be justified on either a strategic or fiscal level,” he said.

The Florida congressional delegation wants a carrier sent to Florida. The Virginia delegation doesn’t want to lose a carrier. And if the US Navy were to reduce the size of its carrier fleet, some particular location would need to lose a carrier. And that would prompt political opposition. You won’t read anything in the QDR about how “it would be politically inconvenient to permanently reduce the size of the carrier fleet because it would cost jobs in someone’s district” but that’s very much among the reasons for maintaining a large carrier fleet.