In his foreign policy speech yesterday, just about the only concrete policy change that GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney offered was an increase in U.S. Navy ship production to Cold War levels. Romney said:
In my first 100 days in office, I will take a series of measures to put these principles into action, and place America — and the world — on safer footing. Among these actions will be to restore America’s national defense. I will reverse the hollowing of our Navy and announce an initiative to increase the shipbuilding rate from 9 per year to 15.
But in a speech full of attacks on President Obama, Romney’s plan to “restore” the size of the Navy is actually an indirect criticism of Presidents Clinton and Bush, not the current Oval Office occupant. Indeed, Romney’s plan would raise ship production to a level not seen since the last days of the Cold War, when the Red Fleet still sailed the high seas. Here’s a chart showing how many ships the Navy got every year since 1990:
Before an audience of military cadets at the Citidel, Romney focused his ire on their Commander-in-Chief, President Obama. But Center for American Progress senior fellow Lawrence Korb — who’s also a retired Navy captain — said during a press call that Romney had the wrong president in his sights if he blamed Obama for the size of today’s Navy:
The great irony is that the level of nine [ships], which Obama has proposed, is higher than at any time during the [George W.] Bush administration. During the Bush administration, we built less than six ships a year. And so if he’s concerned about the size of the Navy, it’s not Obama he’s blaming because the Navy size is a result of the budget decisions made during the Bush administration.
Amid the fear-mongering worst-case-scenarios Romney listed as possible challenges for the next four years, he did mention the possibility of China “brushing aside an inferior American Navy in the Pacific.” But it seems more likely that Romney — with hawkish advisers who pushed for attacking Iraq and seem to have similar designs on Iran — has more aggressive actions in mind for the Navy than simply defending the Pacific against China. In his talk yesterday, Romney said he planned on deploying multiple “aircraft carrier task forces” to intimidate Iran:
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.
So with a Navy producing ships at a Cold War pace, Romney wants to use America’s reinvigorated strength at sea for aggression toward Iran. But destroyers and aircraft carriers and even submarines seem ill-suited for the wars the U.S. fights today: insurgencies and covert wars against non-state actors. Perhaps that’s why Romney, for all his bluster and desire for endless military spending, never mentioned Al Qaeda in his remarks.