The Corner

Bayonets and Horses: Obama Was Wrong on the Detail and the Implication

Obviously the Daily Kos couldn’t miss an opportunity to hit the “bayonets and horses” theme, but it might have at least done it with a little panache. Alas, after a few paragraphs of typically asinine snark, Laura Clawson claims this:

The little detail Republicans have ignored, of course, is that the president didn’t say we have no horses and bayonets, he said we have fewer horses and bayonets… To summarize, Obama said we have fewer horses and bayonets, not none, which is correct. 

First off: No, he’s not “correct.” The president was wrong on the bayonets, and correct on the horses. As Julian Barnes noted in the Wall Street Journal:

From the department of picayune fact-checking: The U.S. Army has 419,155 bayonets in its inventory. The Marine Corps has about 195,334 bayonets (and has plans to acquire 175,061 more).

And what of 1916? Well, as I wrote earlier:

Back then, the army was about 108,000 men strong, and the National Guard boasted about 90,000 men. There are no reliable numbers on the number of bayonets issued — and so chronic was the shortage that American soldiers preparing for war in 1917 were relegated to using brooms instead — but, arguendo, let’s be generous and assume that every man in any sort of defense capacity was given one. That’s 200,000 bayonets at the most.

As regards horses, per Julian Barnes:

Mr. Obama appears to be on the money with horses. In 1916, the U.S. Army still had mounted cavalry forces, creating a demand for horses on the battlefield. Today the Army only  has 176 horses in its “on-hand inventory.” (Though, to be sure, the Special Forces in Afghanistan from time to time borrow local steeds.)

Laura Clawson is ostensibly baffled as to why people on the right have reacted in this way. Glassy-eyed, she writes:

Republicans apparently looked at this and, instead of slinking away in hopes that voters also wouldn’t hear that the Navy had fewer ships under George W. Bush in 2007, thought “we can win this horses and bayonets thing.”

Well, Laura, I’ll venture a a couple of explanations as to why conservatives were astonished. Firstly, old-fashioned as we are, we tend to think that it helps when you’re attempting to “humiliate” somebody that you are actually correct


Obama was half right on the detail, and wholly wrong on the implication: Even if you generously presume that Obama meant “muskets and horses” instead, the notion that the additional ships to which Romney referred were as anachronistic and useless to modern warfare as those items is flat-out absurd. There has been an unbroken line of Anglo-American naval supremacy for over two centuries, and you can’t maintain naval supremacy without ships. Even, as progressives might say, “in the twenty-first century!” Given that he was the one who invented the “pivot to Asia,” President Obama appears to know this, which raises the rather pressing question of how exactly our commander-in-chief intends to achieve his aims while smirking at the means by which they can be accomplished. A question for the times.

But don’t take my word for it. Ask the military. The Pentagon is busy at work developing a new theory called “Air-Sea Battle,” which is crucial to Obama’s “pivot” and — to say the least – to which a strong navy is crucial. Indeed, Obama’s Favorite Intervention Ever, our foray into Libya, was largely accomplished from the ships he so derided last night as a thing of the past. So no, Laura, it’s not that “it’s disrespectful of our troops to suggest that horses and bayonets are maybe not the tools by which we measure our military strength today”; it’s that it is wholly absurd to compare those to the tools on which our future defense plans actually do rely.

The president can blame his misfire on the heat of debate; what’s Laura Clawson’s excuse?

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