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Oct 25 2012

Ryan’s Calculated Cluelessness

The morning after the last debate, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan went on CBS and responded to President Obama’s retort to Romney’s absurd and repeated claims about the U.S. Navy being smaller than at any time since 1916. It’s just so complicated, you see, that he doesn’t understand it:

Appearing on “CBS This Morning,” Ryan suggested the president was being petty: “To compare modern American battleships and Navy with bayonets – I just don’t understand that comparison.

“Look. We have to have a strong Navy to keep peace and prosperity and sea lanes open,” he continued. “The president’s, all these defense cuts, if all these defense cuts go through, our Navy will be smaller than it was before World War I. That’s not acceptable. And, yes, the … the ocean hasn’t shrunk. You still have to have enough ships to have a footprint that you need to keep sea lanes open, to keep our strength abroad where it needs to be.”

Of course you understand the comparison, you’re just lying. He wasn’t comparing modern American battleships with bayonets, he was comparing the century-old technology of 1916 with bayonets. You know damn well how idiotic and dishonest this argument is, you just don’t care. Because politics is all about lying and making shit up, then being able to keep a straight face while defending it.

55 comments

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  1. 1
    Trebuchet

    We’ve still got a 1916 battleship — USS Texas — sitting near Houston. Perhaps we should see about recomissioning her. That should have the Russkies, our number one global threat, shaking in their boots.

  2. 2
    Randomfactor

    the U.S. Navy being smaller than at any time since 1916.

    Even THAT is a lie. Obama’s added nine ships to the low point–which was under Bush.

  3. 3
    composer99

    I’m confident that the US could cut the Navy in half and still soundly defeat all comers.

    Plus, given the US is, last I checked, part of this military alliance called NATO, whose other members, last I checked, have their own navies, I’m fairly confident that the US is not obliged to go it alone to keep the sea lanes open.

  4. 4
    Michael Heath

    The tragedy illustrated here is that it’s politically expedient for Republicans to defend their party’s indefensible arguments, policies, and behavior; as opposed to taking an inconvenient stand for truth, principle, and optimal policies.

    Jon Huntsman dipped his toe in the water a handful of times to see if what I promote could work, where the results were obvious amongst his fellow Republicans. No.

  5. 5
    Trebuchet

    And if you add up the tonnage, I’d guess the Navy is far larger than in 1916. We’ve got 11 large aircraft carriers, each more than three times the displacement of a 1916 battleship. And three more under construction.

  6. 6
    machintelligence

    To mischaracterize a Democratic statement and then argue against it has been a common tactic of the Republicans in this campaign. Remember the blowup over the claim that Mitt’s wife had “never worked a day in her life”, obviously meaning from context she had never been gainfully employed. The Republicans promptly spun it to mean that she had never “worked” at raising her sons and called foul.
    This latest one makes even less sense.

  7. 7
    steve84

    Except in 1916 ships didn’t have radar and thus you needed more ships to patrol a given area. They also had less weapons range.

  8. 8
    Aratina Cage

    I thought it was pretty damn disrespectful of Romney himself to compare our modern military to the one we had in 1916! Why aren’t the right-wingers upset about that disparagement of our troops?

  9. 9
    Michael Heath

    The bayonet analogy was amusing. What would have been even funnier is President Obama challenging Mitt Romney to a $10,000 bet that his Navy could beat Romney’s 1916 Navy.

  10. 10
    tassilo

    Michael Heath @ 4

    The greater tragedy, in my mind, is that nearly 50% of the electorate think that’s perfectly acceptable.

  11. 11
    gshelley

    The president’s, all these defense cuts, if all these defense cuts go through, our Navy will be smaller than it was before World War I. That’s not acceptable.

    Would those be the defence cuts Ryan voted for?

  12. 12
    Mr. Upright

    Hell, Michael, he could have spotted Romney the 1945 Navy.

  13. 13
    justawriter

    I saw one stat the really puts the lie to the whole Navy kerfluffle – in 1916 the U.S. had 11 percent of the world’s warships — now we have approximately 50 percent.

  14. 14
    rickdesper

    One carrier group in today’s navy could sink the entire WWII fleet before lunch time without breaking a sweat. The fleet as a whole could sink every other military ship on the planet while incurring few losses (if any). And a few air forces while they were at it.

    The entire argument is beyond stupid. If Romney and Ryan think today’s military is in any sense weak, they should tell us exactly how. But really, all they’re doing is picking one irrelevant statistic and pretending that it’s meaningful. They know it’s a b.s. argument. 96% of the people who hear it know it’s a b.s. argument. It’s not an argument that can be discussed on its merits, because nobody believes it has any merits.

    There’s no reason to treat Romney and Ryan as if they are making this argument in good faith. They know they’re full of it.

  15. 15
  16. 16
    rickdesper

    @13
    It’s worse than that. The Russians have 1 carrier. The Chinese don’t have any, though they are planning to build some.

    Who has carriers these days? France has 1. Italy has 2. Spain has 1. Thailand (!) and India have one apiece.

    We have more (and better) carriers than the rest of the world combined. We could literally fight and win simultaneous naval battles in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans against all comers.

    Romney is just fear-mongering. This is how American politics work. Nobody is every allowed to admit that we have way more military forces than we can possibly justify.

  17. 17
    Ben P

    As an aside, I find the term “battleships” interesting.

    The U.S. Navy doesn’t even actually have any battleships in active operation these days. The last true battleships we built were the Iowa Class, with the first keel laid in 1939, the last of them commissioned in 1944, with four ultimately completed (of the six planned).

    They were among the largest ships in the world at the time, (The Japanese Yamato was a full 1/3rd larger, the German Bismark was similar in size and the British Hood and French Richelieu were slightly smaller). The Iowas had 58,000 tons displacement, carrying 9 16 inch guns and 12-20 inches of steel armor plating over key areas.

    However, at 58,000 tons they still only have 60% of the displacement of a Nimitz class aircraft carrier, and realistically a 60 plane air wing has orders of magnitude more combat power.

    We kept the last two of them, the Missouri and the Wisconsin around for 60 years, even activating them and using them for shore bombardment in desert storm, but ultimately decommissioned them in the mid 90′s. All four surviving battleships are floating museums now.

  18. 18
    machintelligence

    rickdesper @ 16
    China actually has one now, but it is a used one they bought from Ukraine.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/26/world/asia/china-shows-off-an-aircraft-carrier-but-experts-are-skeptical.html?_r=0

  19. 19
    Ben P

    The Chinese don’t have any, though they are planning to build some.

    Not quite true. The Chinese have had four, three remain, two are museums, and one is reportedly active or nearly so, but the Chinese don’t have any dedicated carrier aircraft to use with it.

    In 1985 the Chinese bought the HMAS Melbourne a 1943 Vintage former Royal Navy, at the time Australian carrier, purportedly for scrap value. They kept her and studied the design for almost 20 years, also using her for naval aviation practice. She was finally scrapped in 2002.

    The Russians were also kind enough to sell the Chinese all of their old carriers, the Minsk, the Kiev and the Varyag. These are the curious Russian “ski-jump” design.

    The Minsk and Keiv were purchased by government owned Chinese companies in 1995 and 1996 respectively, they were studied, but then converted to Civilian use. The Minsk is a floating theme park in Shenzen, and the Kiev is a luxury hotel floating in Honk Kong Harbor.

    The Varyag, which was only 30% completed when the soviet union collapsed, was bought by a chinese company in 1998. *somehow* that company surrendered her to the Chinese Navy, which renamed her the Liaoning. They’ve apparently almost completely refitted the ship and as of September 2012 she’s operationally active.

    However, they don’t have any dedicated carrier planes. In 2006 the Chinese tried to cut a $2.5 billion deal with the soviets for 50 Su-33′s, the former Russian Carrier based fighter. The soviets backed out because they thought the Chinese would just copy them and undercut the Russians export market.

    Afterwards the chinese domestically built the J-15, which from outword appearances is (Perhaps ironically) exactly a ripoff of the Su-33. It is supposedly carrier capable. However, they only just started building them and don’t have any active carrier aviation.

  20. 20
    AsqJames

    a 60 plane air wing has orders of magnitude more combat power

    Not to mention the range at which that combat power can be deployed. And the improved radar on the ships, plus airborne radar and even satellite recon. capability unavailable to any other nation or group of nations.

    All of which means perhaps the dumbest part of what Ryan said is: “… the ocean hasn’t shrunk. You still have to have enough ships to have a footprint that you need to keep sea lanes open…”

  21. 21
    Geds

    Ben P @17 The U.S. Navy doesn’t even actually have any battleships in active operation these days. The last true battleships we built were the Iowa Class, with the first keel laid in 1939, the last of them commissioned in 1944, with four ultimately completed (of the six planned).

    The use of the term “battleship” is nails on chalkboard for me. The battleship was rendered moot in WWI and obsolete in WWII and we don’t have any because we don’t need them.

    However, at 58,000 tons they still only have 60% of the displacement of a Nimitz class aircraft carrier, and realistically a 60 plane air wing has orders of magnitude more combat power.

    And that’s after the second or third modernization that added cruise missile launchers, helicopters, and automated defense systems. When launched the Iowas were “only” 45,000 tons. And they were still half again the size of the biggest WWI battleships. Also, too, an Iowa could probably take on any two WWI battleships at the same time and win handily. But I’d take a Nimitz-class supercarrier and its task force over all four Iowas in a heartbeat. Why? Because six dozen F/A-18 Superhornets could take out a battleship from hundreds of miles. The longest hit landed by a battleship on a moving target was 26,000 yards, or just under 15 miles (an extremely impressive distance, considering) by the HMS Warspite in 1940.

  22. 22
    scienceavenger

    The only thing potent about Ryan’s ignorant comments is their ability to blow up irony meters the world over. The (supposedly) pro-military GOP has nominated people that couldn’t find their bayonet if it was up their keel.

    Someone should ask Ryan what became of all those great battleships of WWII. Ask him what happened to the great Royal Navy sent to free Malaysia when it did battle with the Japanese airforce. Or how about the Bismark, bravely hiding until it was found and sunk relatively easily. Ask him what role battleships played in the pivotal battle of Midway. Ask him why we should build such archaic behemoths now.

    At least when John McCain speaks of going to war, he knows what he’s fucking talking about, and had the stones to man up personally when his time came, with the scars to prove it. The ignorant chickenhawks Ryan and Romney make me sick, and any military man voting for them ought to be called down hard on it.

  23. 23
    steve84

    @rickdesper
    Don’t get so cocky. Modern diesel-electric hunter killer submarines have little trouble sinking aircraft carriers. That was true even before the introduction of air-independent propulsion. Even the US Navy realized that and sort of leased a Swedish submarine for a longer time to carry out detailed tests.

  24. 24
    Ben P

    have a footprint that you need to keep sea lanes open…”

    Ultimately that’s why carriers prevailed over battleships.

    The Missouri or Wisconsin could project a hell of a lot of force, but to bring that force to bear it has to be 50 miles (at most) from where the action is.

    On the other hand, we can park the 5th fleet out in the middle of the Indian ocean and, assuming at least there’s not too much going on at once, that one carrier group can provide air cover and support to operations from Iraq to Afghanistan.

  25. 25
    Aratina Cage

    The ignorant chickenhawks Ryan and Romney make me sick, and any military man voting for them ought to be called down hard on it.

    Nice quote, but I feel it should be mentioned out loud that such a military man would be John McCain himself. People kept saying how much they respected him, but all I see is a disrespectful, trigger-happy, cantankerous warmonger when I observe him.

  26. 26
    scienceavenger

    Hey Ryan, you ignorant fuck, what’s another word for “battleship without air support”?

    Flotsam.

  27. 27
    Ben P

    Don’t get so cocky. Modern diesel-electric hunter killer submarines have little trouble sinking aircraft carriers

    Modern Diesel-Electric submarines have one primary advantage. When they’re running on batteries they are exceedingly quiet.

    Nuclear submarines are quiet as well but a nuclear power plant has to have coolant pumps running at all times and those make at least some noise.

    However, the disadvantage is that batteries run out very quickly. Subs like the ones the swedes and germans build are very dangerous in confined bodies of water like the baltic, but loose much of their advantage in large stretches of open water. Given that a nuclear aircraft carrier can run at 35 knots until something mechanical breaks, a small diesel electric sub can only feasably hunt a carrier by ambushing it. This is one of the primary our carriers rarely operate in constrained bodies of water.

    That said, submarines are yet another area where the US has unparalleled dominance. We have approximately 40 los angeles class attack submarines, in addition to 3 Seawolf class (Seawolf, Conneticut and Jimmy Carter), and 6-8 of the new Virginia Class submarines. And this is not counting the handful of Ballistic Missile submarines we have as well. That’s about 40 more than any other country operates, and the next strongest is either the UK (which operates about 20) or Russia (no one really knows for sure because they say they have a lot more than they really do).

  28. 28
    slc1

    Re rickdesper @ #14

    As I stated in an earlier thread on this blog, one President Class Aircraft Carrier could sink the entire WW1 British Grand Fleet, including the battlecruisers, in the morning, the entire WW1 German High Seas Fleet over lunch, and the entire WW1 US battle fleet in the afternoon.

  29. 29
    eldinalver

    I know defending a republican is about as near blaspheme, BUT, we do need a significant number of ships. I used to be in the navy and did mainly westpacs before being forward deployed to Japan. I am also currently living in S. E. Asia.

    The primary purpose of the US navy is actually what Ryan stated. We secure shipping lanes. My first deployment was on a destroyer patrolling the Malacca Strait and seizing pirate ships. While we used to have enough ships, the increased piracy in Africa and the Middle East has increased the demands on our navy. With the rise of China, America is also having to dedicate more of our ships to the Pacific.

    This leads me to the other reason; stability in South East and East Asia is entirely dependent on America. The only thing stopping war in the Korean peninsula, between China and Japan (with Korea thrown in), between China and Taiwan, between China and Vietnam and between China and the Philippines, is the American military presence. Hence why Obama blundered in his first year and a half in office when he attempted to appease China (fortunately he learned his lesson and has been a much better president the last couple years).

    In S.E. Asia, the biggest security concern is an overly assertive China. This is why S.E. Asian countries welcomed the increased American interest despite their distrust of American intentions.

  30. 30
    zmidponk

    Hmm.

    You still have to have enough ships to have a footprint that you need to keep sea lanes open

    Apart from the other differences already pointed out, the maximum speed and/or operating range of a typical 1916 navy warship was what, precisely? And the maximum speed and/or operating range of a typical 2012 warship is what, precisely? The maximum range of the weapons of a typical 1916 warship was what, precisely? And the maximum range of the weapons of a typical 2012 navy warship is what, precisely? The answers to those questions alone suggest that it is perfectly possible to ‘have a footprint that you need to keep sea lanes open’ whilst actually having less ships.

    Of course, this would require that Ryan both understands Obama’s point and does not pretend not to.

  31. 31
    eric

    And remember folks, this is fiscal conservative of fiscal conservatives. Mr. reduce-spending-at-costs, telling the voters about his plan to dramatically increase the budget of the single largest discretionary government program we have.

  32. 32
    busterggi

    This has been thoroughly unfair to Ryan. He’s a chickenhawk just like the typical neo-con – he really does have no clue as to what the military really is.

  33. 33
    NitricAcid

    @#26 I think you mean “jetsam”. Flotsam would be expected to float.

  34. 34
    Brain Hertz

    We kept the last two of them, the Missouri and the Wisconsin around for 60 years, even activating them and using them for shore bombardment in desert storm, but ultimately decommissioned them in the mid 90′s. All four surviving battleships are floating museums now.

    But without battleships like the Missouri, how do we hope to repel an invasion of gigantic ocean-going alien starships?

  35. 35
    Marcus Ranum

    Size doesn’t matter.

    The US navy could send the world’s other navies combined to the bottom. It wouldn’t be easy, but that’s not the point.

  36. 36
    Marcus Ranum

    Brain Hertz ponders:
    But without battleships like the Missouri, how do we hope to repel an invasion of gigantic ocean-going alien starships?

    That’s easy. They’ll be running Windows XP on Intel processors and they’ll be susceptible to a computer virus.

  37. 37
    whheydt

    Re; Trebuchet @ #1…

    Don’t forget that we still have a 1794 frigate, and it is–IIRC–still in commission.

  38. 38
    wscott

    Comparing the firepower of today’s navy to that of the 1916 (or 1945) navy is as meaningless as comparing number of ships. Comparing the US Navy to other navies is slightly less irrelevant, but only slightly because those navies don’t have the same mission the US Navy does.

    While I don’t entirely agree with eldinalver’s analysis @ 29, he’s asking the right questions:
    1. What is the mission of the US Navy? and
    2. Do we have enough ships to fulfill that mission?

    If the answer to #1 is “police the world’s sea lanes,” then the next question is how many ships do we need to accomplish that. And yes, at some level the number of ships matters regardless of their firepower because you can only spread a limited number of destroyers so far. No other nation needs a navy close to our size because none of them are interested in taking on the job of policing the seas worldwide. Similarly, aircraft carriers are only essential if you’re interested in projecting military power halfway around the world; if you only want to defend your region, land-based aircraft are far more effective.

    Now whether or not all that is something we really want the US to do is a whole `nother question. But we can’t really get to #2 in any meaningful way without first having an honest discussion of America’s role in the world. And let’s face it, both parties would rather die than go there.

  39. 39
    wscott

    The ignorant chickenhawks Ryan and Romney make me sick, and any military man voting for them ought to be called down hard on it.

    Seconded. But I have to agree with Aratina Cage: McCain has repeatedly caved to party loyalty rather than stand up to the reckless chickenhawks in his own party. He gets no respect from this (ex) military man.

  40. 40
    Trebuchet

    Don’t forget that we still have a 1794 frigate, and it is–IIRC–still in commission.

    Good point. And she’s about as militarily useful as an Iowa class battleship in the modern world, too.

  41. 41
    Area Man

    I’m confident that the US could cut the Navy in half and still soundly defeat all comers.

    I’m confident we could get rid of all but one of our most modern subs, and all but one of our most modern carriers with its requisite support craft, and still soundly defeat all comers.

    Naval power today is highly asymmetric. Numbers are mostly irrelevant, although it is nice to be able to fight in more than one ocean if we must.

  42. 42
    Ichthyic

    While I don’t entirely agree with eldinalver’s analysis @ 29, he’s asking the right questions:

    which leaves us still with Romney, who obviously was not only asking the wrong questions, but even getting the answers to THOSE questions wrong.

  43. 43
    Ichthyic

    That’s easy. They’ll be running Windows XP on Intel processors and they’ll be susceptible to a computer virus.

    “Welcome to Earth!”

  44. 44
    sunsangnim

    What enemies are we fighting at sea? What enemies will we be fighting at sea anytime in the foreseeable future?

    I’m sure extra battleships will help us root out Taliban militants deep in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan.

  45. 45
    blf

    The French carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, is almost useless (even the French think it is a joke), spending much of its time being repaired or refitted. When first launched, the aircraft it was designed for couldn’t actually use it (runway length problem as I recall), and it had to be modified. And so on…

     ────────────────────────

    As I previously pointed out, the 1917 navy was coal-burning, meaning some — I suspect many — of the ships were colliers used to refuel / resupply other ships.

  46. 46
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    Ryan voted for the sequester.

    Obama’s goal is to spend $1 trillion above the level of sequester.

    Who’s voting for defense cuts?

  47. 47
    slc1

    Re blf @ #45

    The US, at the time being an oil producing nation, unlike Britain, France, Germany, and Japan, went to oil burning ships, starting with the Nevada class. All US dreadnaughts subsequent to the Nevada class ran on oil.

  48. 48
    blf

    slc1, It’s always been my understanding that the USAlien Navy didn’t convert from coal to oil until just after WWI, albeit they had some (experimental?) oil-burners before the war. But in checking, you seem to be correct and I am mistaken, 1914 — OIL vs COAL AS FUEL SOURCE FOR BOILERS:

    Oil was first tested in the U.S. Navy on small ships. USS Palos, a tug in Boston Navy Yard, was apparently the first U.S. Navy ship to test this type of fuel. As a coal burner, Palos did eight knots. However, when converted to oil she did over 14. It was this highly successful test that led to the testing of oil on larger ships and in January 1909 the USS Cheyenne (formally USS Wyoming) was the first large ship to use oil. Her tests along the California coast were also successful. In 1912 the Navy’s first two oil-burning capital ships USS Nevada (BB-36) and Oklahoma (BB-37) were laid down, and were commissioned in 1916.

    As oil became the primary fuel in use in the Navy the rating of Coal Passer was no longer needed and it was changed to Fireman in 1917.

    Obviously, if the Coal Passer rating was “no longer needed … in 1917″, then by then there weren’t very many coal-burners; ergo, the USAlien Navy was oil-burning in 1917.

    That would mean that the colliers were being phased-out / scrapped / converted. The only collier I know anything about was the USS Langley (CV-1), converted into the world’s first aircraft carrier.

  49. 49
    slc1

    Re blf @ #48

    The British apparently didn’t convert to oil until the construction of the Queen Elizabeth class dreadnaughts. All 4 of them were at the Battle of Jutland as part of Beatty’s battle-cruiser squadron.

    The German Navy never built any oil burning dreadnaughts during WW1. Even the Baden, the most modern German dreadnaught burned coal with oil spray designed to increase heat output. This showed up in the maximum speed of 21 knots as compared with the maximum speed of the Queen Elizabeths of 23 knots, even thought the latter were considerably smaller.

  50. 50
    democommie

    Well, if Mittmoroni and Pauliewingnutz are elected they can commission the U.S.S. John Galt, a fleet manure spreader.

  51. 51
    wscott

    @Ichthyic 42: Exactly.

    @ sunsangnim 44: It’s not just about fighting other navies. If you want to be able to project military power across the globe, you need the fleet to help support that. Think of carrier groups as mobile forward supply bases. As I said before, that leaves open the questions of how much power we think we need to projects, and how many ships are needed to support that. But it’s a bit more nuanced than your post indicates.

    @ blf 45: True, we don’t have colliers anymore. But they’ve just been replaced by oilers and other supply ships, so I’m not sure that affects the overall numbers.

    @ democommie 50: LOL!

  52. 52
    blf

    wscott, Coal is less energy dense than oil, so the coal-burners would either need to be refueled more frequently or devote more space to storing fuel (or both). And they apparently tended to be slower, further increasing the fleet’s fuel consumption.

    Whilst I can’t find reliable (or at least easily collated) numbers, I suspect the proportion of colliers to warships would have been higher than tankers to warships. Plus, nowadays, there’s nuclear, perhaps offset by the need for aviation fuel tankers.

    The real point, of course, is the navy’s equipment and needs in 1917 were considerably different to today. The mission is also probably rather different, since back then the USA was more isolationist. And in 1917 you’re at the end of a major war that had a significant naval element, so there’d be a fair of number of ships which perhaps otherwise wouldn’t have been built. It was a silly comparison.

  53. 53
    jesse

    By the way, anyone notice that Romney not only failed (military) history, but geography too?

    Geography: Syria is Iran’s path to the sea.

  54. 54
    lpetrich

    As to what happened to battleships in WWII, let’s not forget the Yamato, the biggest one ever built.

    It was designed for fighting the biggest ships in the American fleet, but it never had a chance. Late in the war, it was sent to Okinawa on a one-way mission, but it never got there. It was sunk on the way by American planes with their torpedoes and bombs.

  55. 55
    Suido

    @NitricAcid #33

    Nope, jetsam is deliberately jettisoned cargo/equipment/etc. Flotsam is wreckage.

    Flotsam floats, jetsam may sink or float. According to wikipedia, lagan and derelict are the terms used for jetsam and wreckage that has sunk.

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