STUART, Fla. — Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) knows a thing or two about how the U.S. military uses bayonets, because he sent soldiers into battle with them in Iraq.
Speaking to about 100 senior citizens Tuesday afternoon in this golfing and retirement community, West joined legions of conservatives and Republicans criticizing President Obama’s performance during Monday night’s presidential debate on foreign policy and seized especially on the exchange between Obama and Republican Mitt Romney over the declining strength of the U.S. Navy.
“I can tell you that when I was a battalion commander, we did still issue bayonets to our troops when we deployed to Iraq in 2003. The second thing I will tell you is that in 2001, Special Forces soldiers were on horseback riding with the Northern Alliance to fight against the Taliban,” West said. “So obviously we have a president who does not understand the full capabilities and capacities and what we do in the United States military.”
During the debate, Obama responded to Romney’s concerns about U.S. naval power by noting that “we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed.”
Obama never said that bayonets were nonexistent — only that they are far less prevalent than they used to be. Indeed, as The Post noted Monday night, the U.S. Marines still train with bayonets in boot camp.
West is a freshman GOP lawmaker and former Army lieutenant colonel running for reelection in Florida’s 18th Congressional District. He was honorably discharged from the Army in 2004 amid questions about his handling of the interrogation of an Iraqi military official. Questions about his military service are dominating his reelection campaign (more on that here in 2chambers, tomorrow).
West has been credited with having a detailed understanding of military history and used Obama’s comments to lead the crowd in a quick review of military strategy and history around the world.
“In the 1990s, the United states Navy had 575 naval war vessels. Today, the Navy has about 283,” West said. “With sequestration, we will take the Navy down to 230 naval warships. That is the smallest Navy that we’ve seen since 1915.”
“You can go all the way back to the Phoenicians to modern day, and everyone has understood the means by which you project the strength of a nation is not through an Army, it’s through a strong Navy,” he said later. “The means by which you protect the sea lanes of commerce is not through an Army, it’s through a Navy. You look at what is happening south of our area here, there is no naval presence going down towards South American or Latin America. Why? Because we don’t have enough warships.”
West used history to suggest that the United States is on the verge of repeating history.
“After World War I, what did we do to our military?” he asked the room.
“Cut it,” several people said.
“What came after World War I? World War II. After World War II, what did we do to our military?” he asked.
“Cut it,” the crowd said again.
“And what came after World War II?” he asked.
“Korea,” the room replied.
“After Korea, what did we do to our military? Cut it. And then came the Cold War and Vietnam and things of that nature. And let me tell you — after Desert Shield and Desert Storm, what did we do to our military? We cut it.”
The crowd rose to their feet and cheered when West concluded his remarks. Before they sat for lunch, a supporter rose and led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. Most people put their hands over their hearts; as he recited the pledge, West faced the flag and saluted.