Bringing Politics to Sea…

February 2009


In a couple of the comment threads the issue of politics has come up along with the question of whether politics should even be part of the discussion. In the recent post “Which child do you sell first?” reader ‘RickWilmes’ writes:

Two issues remain for me.

1. How does the USNI blogging community solve the claim of bringing politics into the discussion when the topic IS about politics? For me, personally, when I see this issue being raised then I know the individual raising such a claim has a weak position on the issue. I think it is a subtle form of argument from authority or intimidation. Not quite sure which but this issue needs to be addressed and solved so that it is no longer raised in future topics.Link to his whole comment

So, lets discuss the issue. I would think that there is room to discuss politics in most every subject posted here, provided that the author didn’t frame the post ‘Operationally speaking’ or used other wording that clearly limits the subject.

Subjects, such as those concerning funding, homeporting, policy, etc. probably are more connected to political issues than say flight deck operations, fighting a fire, ship stability, Gravity, etc…

Sometimes, it appears that politics frame and even limit how/if operations are conducted, such as deciding to board an Iranian ship, deciding if and how to conduct anti-pirate operations, deciding to build a new class of ship, deciding to order additional units of whatever after the DoD decided that they don’t want any more of them, deciding not to close bases that the Military would like to close, etc…

I would think that Rules of Engagement are often drafted keeping in mind the possible political implications that operating under those rules might create. Those rules might even be compromised to be less than ideal because of possible negative political implications.

However, at the end of the day, I would think that Navy Policy flows down to the Sailor with his assigned duty in running the ship or Marine or Seal with his finger on a trigger, all with tasks and goals they need to accomplish. I would think that there is little politics to be brought in at that level and I doubt that those carrying out their jobs are thinking what sort of ‘heat’ the President is going to have to face because of what they just did or didn’t do.

This subject does brings up a good point in that the head of the military is a Politician. Only politics can take a budget increase for the military and make it look like a cut in funding. And with that, feel free to discuss politics in your comments on this thread. Do so on other threads using your best judgment.

Posted by Fred Fry

Posted by FFry in Naval Institute, Policy
Tags: ,

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

  • Pode

    “Sometimes, it appears that politics frame and even limit how/if operations are conducted”

    Somewhere in the afterlife, the chambers of Clausewitz and Sun Tzu echo with the sound of facepalm.

    Politics shapes every operation, period. Even operations by non-state actors result from a failure of state politics to address the concerns of those actors.

  • Fred,

    This subject is important to discuss openly. Here at USNI we constantly wonder about when to step into these discussions. That’s because we believe the power of this blog resides in its aggregation of viewpoints, and the ability of posters to lead the agenda without us interferring. So we tend to come down in favor of letting debates find their balance even when they tilt a bit toward the abyss.

    The rules at Proceedings have been short and simple and they apply here:
    –No personal attacks including leaders past and present.
    –Don’t be boring.

    To the extent that politics is relevant it will creep in from time-to-time but can easily violate the second rule. And some feel that making it personal somehow validates a point of view, a clear violation of the first rule.

    We would be happy to have everyone’s thoughts.

    Bill, publisher at USNI

  • Compound Fracture

    What exactly are we supposed to discuss? Politics in general? Politics as it relates to the Navy? I’m sorry, and I feel dumb, but I guess I don’t get the overall direction, Fred. Sorry.

    I’m new here, so I wish to tread lightly and respectfully, but it seems the political implications of any subject – should there be any – ought to just flow freely out of the discussion as it comes up in the discussion. Being the new guy here, has any political discussion been banned in the past? I’m a bit confused on that, and could use some clarification.

  • Byron

    And if we start playing the blame game by using pejoritve adverbs and adjectives, there will be no discussion here, only shouting, ranting and flaming: “Your (insert party) really (insert pejoritive phrase) and its all because of Pres. (insert whatever guy gets blamed this time, though we all know it’s never that simple).

    Do we really need that? Do we want to see the kind of discussion that people will really listen to? Do we want to talk about our Navy’s history with pride? Do we want to talk about mistakes, and never get to the “fix it” part because everyone is ranting about politics?

    My strong suggestion is to talk politics only in the abstract, never in the personal, and that’s only if you find it impossible to leave politics out of the discussion.

  • F2,
    As I am the guy who the commenter describes as having “weak position” – I ask what exactly was the “political position” that was taken in the post? What was the question in the post?

    Do we have the case of a political post not wanting other opinions – or a commenter seeing what he wanted to see and hijacking a post for his political ends?

    To save the trouble of going back to the post, I’ll quote from it – the focus of the post was “…Just use a USN 30% of the total as a baseline – $18.3 billion. What do we throw into the volcano first?…”

    The question I put out there on your post FF is: do we let USNI degrade into another political free for all (as my home blog is) – or are we here for something else?

    A post on how you address a budget cut from an original proposal to ~11% less it taken in comments by a commenter to a Fox News vs. a CQ article that uses a former Clinton OMB official and DOD budget critic I have been reading since the Reagan administration. Great fun and all – but I can do that at CDR Salamander or DailyKos. Yawn.

    If we want to go political here – I’ll go in with both hands I guess, but what does that add that already exists elsewhere? If we are going to repeat other formats – why blog here at all?

    Deleting FOD’s posts had nothing to do with political intimidation – but everything to do with controlling trollish behavior. All his issues were brought up by other commenters in a less trollish and less angry-political tone and were left to stand.

    Authority? Yea, I’ll admit to that. Not on my posts will trollish behavior be allowed to fester and grow to infect the rest of USNIBlog. I have no problem deleting posts from those who engage in personal insults and slander simply because they cannot bring up valid points without them. If we let our comments degrade to DailyKos level – again, why bother?

    Hmmmm, I think in the FEB Proceedings you will see a quote from someone who said, “we can have creative friction without conflict; respect begets respect.”

    The deleted comments in question was not creative friction – and was little more than trollish trash talking.

    To address your comments about politics – yes that is part of what we do and will play here as you describe, and I agree with you – but not the angry politics that were in the posts I deleted. There is a big difference.

  • Andy (JADAA)

    In a way, this discussion is a good thing in that it demonstrates that this blog has rapidly reached adolescence. But as with such an age in youth, we too are now at a proverbial cross roads in what “life direction” we move.

    I would humbly submit that in as much as the Institute is a professional organization, we behave accordingly. There are plenty of blogs out there whose comments sections have rapidly devolved to the rhetoric of the lowest trolls (“Danger Room” comes to mind) and there are those where dumb a$$es like me realize we really are the stupidest person in the room. (“Information Dissemination” anyone?) I for one would largely prefer the latter.

    While I cheerfully admit my decrepitude, I refer everyone to the old adage that “politics, religion and sex have no place in the Wardroom; keep it on the bridge and ready room at mid-watch, where it belongs.”


  • FOD Detector

    The ‘angry politics’ is all yours, CDR. You wished to create a meme that President Obama was cutting (“hollowing” is your term) the defense budget. That draconian cuts were incoming, followed by doom, pestilence, and the return of the Yugo.

    Your premise was false. Had you googled “Obama defense cuts” or similar terms, this would have been readily apparent.

    Even if we accept your specious news source, Pentagon budget requests are almost always padded and they are almost always trimmed. This is nothing new and it happens in the administrations of both parties.

    Far from wishing to ‘protect’ USNI, you seek to create an echo chamber no different than your blog. As a I commented sometime back, USNI runs a real risk of becoming Little Green Footballs Lite because some–not all-of its bloggers have a marked political vice professional bent.

    If I’ve slandered you–call a lawyer.

  • Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

    FF; over to you.

  • Thanks for the comments. I agree with CDRSalamander and Andy in that the blog, both authors and commentors strive to take the high road.

    I believe that many of the people reading USNI Blog are important, busy people who really don’t have the time to sift through thousands of comments. Although, I would hope that in the process of making all those comments that the good ideas bubble to the top as other comment and expand on them. At the same time, we want people to put forward their thoughts on the subject at hand.

    Take this part of FOD’s comment above.
    “Pentagon budget requests are almost always padded and they are almost always trimmed. This is nothing new and it happens in the administrations of both parties.”

    Good point. Unfortunately it is wrapped in a continuation of a discussion from a previous discussion so the point will most likely get lost in the clutter.

    When I was doing my MBA, a couple of the courses gave points for ‘class participation’. this international group was very concerned about not loosing points for something like that so up the hands went and out came some of the most idiot comments you ever hear, from very bright people, all in the name of participation.

    Well, one day a teacher (who was reserving 20% for class participation) called his first volunteer. A volunteer who liked to hear his voice. He called the comment for what is was and advised the class that he was only concerned with the content of the comments and would grade accordingly. Half the hands went down and never went back up.

  • Byron

    I’m not trying to toss gas on a fire, but whenever a new administration comes into office, the military sweats the budget. POTUS is a new face, and the upper echelons of the civil service types as well as their flag brethren get nervous. They are having to deal with an unwritten mission statement (and they’re smart enough to know all about politicians campaign promises, whether it be Rep. or Dem.). I don’t read anything more into this that the blank report. FOD, I don’t see this as a war or some kind of fight. I just see it as business as usual for a new administration.

  • As mentioned earlier, politics are inextricable from a discussion of naval affairs. The key to deciding whether political commentary is appropriate is in the tone and content of post or comment. If you have to stoop to using a political label as an epithet, or you don’t or can’t offer facts and arguments about why a particular policy is good or bad, not only are you are you probably treading out of bounds, but there’s a good chance you’re position is flawed, to boot.

    I’ve always been impressed by Fabius Maximus’ management of comments, which can be summarized by insisting comments and posts add value to the conversation rather than make partisan attacks or merely take up space.

    I usually default to the old Yankee wisdom of, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt”. If the best you can come up with when someone asks a thought-provoking question is, “Of course (Politician A) will support/oppose this, he’s a (political label)”, then don’t waste our time or yours.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    It is true that one cannot separate politics from defense spending. This is particularly true of naval expenditures, and true for every nation that has ever built a modern Navy, the US included. Warships, capital units in particular, remain the single costliest weapon system in any inventory, and have been so since the beginning of the industrial age. CVN-77 cost nearly $6.5 billion and is not even in service yet.

    And yes, service chiefs howl when defense cuts are mentioned. They did when Rumsfeld was touting his “transformation” and they will now. Some of that is justified, as history is replete with instances when missions expand while resources contract. Some of the howling is not, as when inefficient and costly methods drive procurement and construction and people are loathe to reform or hold accountable.

    That said, the constant harping on this or that administration as the root of all evil grows tiresome and is rather childish. The fact that Iran provides arms to Hamas and has a stake in violence in Gaza is not dependent on American politics and does not represent a partisan point of view. Nor is the fact that there are pirates of Somalia, or that Russia is exerting increasing influence on her European neighbors, or that China is heavily involved in Africa. Or any number of unpleasant but immutable realities.

    What the US, particularly the US Navy/Marine Corps, is able and ready to do as a result of those facts, and whether they bode good or ill for the US and her allies, should be the baseline for the discussions here. This can include discussion on shipbuilding, weapons, tactics, manpower issues, capabilities, National Maritime Strategy, NMS, NSS, etc., but should be devoid of the wild accusations of political partisanship that sometimes follow every comment. I am interested in hearing learned opinions and expressing mine, but in regards to the issues, and not as excerpts from some off-kilter political manifesto.

  • Compound Fracture

    Interesting comments. I just became a member of USNI – courtesy of my good brother-in-law, and so only recently started getting Proceedings. Since my active duty days in the 1980s I had not read the magazine. I’m impressed with the professionalism and the search for solutions I find therein. Thus far, I think I’ve received 4 issues.

    This latest issue, as I made note of in my first post here, I saw something about this blog and how the discussion is professional. That attracted me. I have thoughts about our Navy and its direction, and I have an opinion. Reading how I could come here and expect discussion, vice flaming and all of the other things one encounters on the typical internet message board, had me here within 48 hours of reading about the place.

    Again, I say politics ought to just flow out of the discussion at hand. That’s only right and natural. In my short stay here, it seems there are plenty of level-headed thinkers here – folks that would very quickly rid the place of flamers and guys that just can’t get past a post without inserting some political flim-flammery. If I thought I was going to come here and get into an Obama/Bush flame war, I wouldn’t have bothered.

    I’m hoping what I read in Proceedings about this place was correct. So far it seems this is a good place to come and interact with people that care about the Navy. I’m going to hang around and see what happens. I think one big mistake people make when they come to a place like this is to jump in whole-hog without really taking the time to learn the style and sense of the place. I think I committed that blunder with my first post. Live and learn.

  • Anon

    CF, most blog-izens will overlook a newbies approach, or help him find his way. 99% of the people I’ve met in the blog world have been first class; it’s really a community of it’s own. And what we’re talking about in this thread is a reaction to a small handful of people who can’t seem to get past the hate and get a bit dispassionate about the topic at hand, at least enough to keep a high signal to noise ratio.

  • CF,

    To which of your posts were you referring? The one about cutting the Navy in half?

  • Compound Fracture

    Yep, you got it, YS.

    And now I feel at home with “CF” because at the one other message board I frequent, that is what I’m called. Usually.

  • Compound Fracture

    Anon, thanks for the reply, and I can agree with the “most.” It really is just a handful of folks that make it so trying for the rest of us.

  • CF,

    I went back and reread your post and the responses it generated, and if you made a mistake it was in not laying out an adequate defense of your position. You threw out a pretty radical proposal with what appeared to be a very hasty and weak defense. I don’t want to drag this thread off topic, but when you were challenged you seemed to back away. I’ll post a comment on the other thread to try and draw out your thinking.

  • Also posted on ‘Which Child do we sell first?”

    CDR and FOD:
    “She-who-must-be-obeyed at USNIBlog may overrule me, but for now … I’m guarding my porch.”

    Each Guest blogger here has the permission to delete comments or call into question those who comment. The authority to block an IP rests with the moderator.

    Well, after having the double wammy of moving and spending an inordinate amount of time at the Dept. of Motor Vehicles, I have come late into the game on this issue – I apologize.

    We are trying to take a very light hand in the commentary; to inspire the free exchange of ideas – which is our charter, from 1873. Apart from spam, we have deleted less than 3 comments and blocked no one.

    Make no mistake: personal attacks and belittling comments are beneath the type of discussion we hope will happen. That discussion is now being played out in this post

    Not trying to distract from the thoughtful debate happening here, just trying to address CDR’s comment and remind all of you that yes, I must be obeyed. (kidding)

    Mary – Moderator

  • Jay

    I think it is almost impossible to keep from thinking of political motives (whether Administration, Congress, etc) when talking budget/acquisition and other issues.

    How you address it, without “crossing the line” of professional conduct (for those of us who are Officers and/or subject to the UCMJ) is a complex issue.

    Unfortunately, you’ll see on LOTS of blogs, political rants & raves & many made by folks who really ought to know better. You simply can’t (& shouldn’t) do that sort of thing. Yet, due to the ability to remain anonymous they do (because technology enables it).

    Some folks will wail & shriek about “censorship” or “thought police” or other such nonsense when reminded of their obligations & the sometimes not-easy requirements of leadership.

    Unfortunately, the military has strayed way, way off course in the past few decades re: politics & partisanship.

    That is a shame to see. Professional ethics demands better.

    I would almost like to see (but doubtful it would ever happen) that the military would voluntarily give up the right to vote while serving. And, while that comment will generate a lot of comments to the contrary, consider this, what if the military could be perceived as totally non-partisan & apolitical? If it existed only to serve the state, and avoided even the appearance of attempting to influence the civilian command structure (by voting), instead only giving professional advice.

    A story to bring the point home: during the COLE operation, I was stuck on an amhip with some co-workers for a bit. We kept our lively & differing political conversations private (in our berthing areas), however, we were all somewhat surprised and disappointed (we comprised senior & junior Officers alike) by the completely open & hostile & partisan comments & literature in the wardroom & in the lounges. Command leadership failure.

    We ought not unduly influence our enlisted folks with our personal opinions.

  • FOD Detector

    USNI owns it, moderator.

    You want to be Little Green Footballs v.2, so be it.

  • Thank you FOD, I have three brothers, all having played football, but none of them are little or green.

    Furthermore, since I have avoided the Little Green Football site, I am easily uninformed and equinaninous on the discussion therein.

    The point, as I see it on this blog (and I have read through your commentary in succession (across various posts)) is that you have much to give to the discussion and you have an insight that is valuable. Questioning is good; snide comments – not so much.

    I hope you are able to keep your opinions regarding individuals and personalities in check and focus on policy. As well, restrain from an ascerbic tone that might come across as derogatory – for that lends nothing to the discussion.

    The pen is mightier than the sword

    Mary – Moderator

  • Compound Fracture

    Good post, Jay. Thought provoking – especially the bit about voting – or not.

  • Jay

    Let me clear up a thought while some of you are composing posts…perhaps not vote while on active duty, once leaving active duty (not sure about reserves yet…), retired or leaving…then return to voting status.

    Hopefully, that heads off anyone equating not voting while in the armed forces to felons…

  • Dee Illuminati

    given the choice of jobs creation by sodding the washington monument or spending more on the support of public art; I would prefer to see real jobs created by shipbuilding of littoral craft and corvairs.

    Thats my politics.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    So, active duty (and possibly reserve)service members would be asked to fight and die to uphold a democracy you believe will be better for them not participating in?

    What other Constitutional guarantees might we be better off without while serving our country?

    Does the perceived political bent of the armed forces cause you to question their reliability and willingness to support and defend the Constitution of the United States?

  • Chap

    My $.02:

    –FF, if you’re defining “politics” as interaction between people and organizations with a Navy focus, it makes sense; if it’s bashing the people we work for in a professional forum not about that, or grand statements about irrelevant news of the day, then not. This isn’t the “Politics With Navy Focus” blog. We are not politicians. That said, war is an extension of Politik. We have a fine line to walk.
    –I reserve the right to control comments on my posts, though the admin gets final say since it’s the USNI’s blog. Gotta have a hammer or all the trolls push out the useful commenters. I have little patience for personal insults and threadjackings; one-note orchestras (say, making the same observation, correct or not, in multiple comment strings regardless of context) are boring. Even Wikipedia has moderators. That said (again), bad hammers make for boring blogs and the touch on the ‘delete’ key has so far been very light.
    –Any group engaged in a BOGSAT will, without care, turn into a discussion of solving world hunger or similar blue-sky irrelevant but fun to discuss concepts. On the internet this can turn ugly and I have a corollary to Godwin’s Law about it. Focus.
    –Plenty of people talk about politics. Not that many know about metacentric heights or theater security cooperation plan development. Go with what you’re good at. I assert Proceedings bobbled in the past when they introduced the then-sexy political angle to some of their articles using non-active duty or non-military writers; I heard lots of griping among peers until they toned it down a little.

  • One additional thing to keep in mind is that is is a good idea to try to direct comments to the audience as a group, not to a specific person.

    When directing comments to a specific person, you miss out on taking full advantage of this platform. Just think of writing a letter to the Navy heads at the Pentagon. Maybe one person reads it before it gets filed. Write a comment here and many people will read it, maybe even people holding positions of authority.

  • Chap, Thanks,

    The way I see it, the Navy operates under the limits set by the politicians. That’s not exactly something that that any discussion will change other than at election time.

    So if the Commander and Chief sets a course, I would think the discussion here would be how best to sail that way, issues concerning the trip and other related issues. Complaining about the destination isn’t going to change where the ship is headed, or make the ‘Captain’ go away.

  • Byron

    Jay, I respectfully disagree with you. If anyone deserves to vote, it’s the people that have volunteered to stand at the gate for the rest of us.

  • RickWilmes

    Fred Fry,

    Thank you for taking my issue and creating a post that directly addresses it, I much appreciate it. As far as I am concerned the charge of bringing politics into the discussion is a distraction and an attempt to derail the debate. I realize that the USNI blog is walking a fine line and those individuals who are on active duty are limited to what they can and cannot say. Personally, I find the claim that politics has no place in the discussion violates the blogging guidelines of being boring. If a blogger or fellow commenter has an issue with a particular point than identify the issue and state why they disagree.

    Since the USNI blog is new it is going to go through some growing pains. This discussion is just part of the process. For those that are interested, I am 40 years old and a life-time member of USNI. If I live to the ages of my grandfathers than I am looking at about 40 years of reading and making comments on this blog. I am coming into the discussion with three things my name, my ideas and my ability to express myself. With that said, I also realize that my comments and ideas are going to be controversial and against the status quo. I am prepared for that. I just don’t want to get bogged down in the politics debate everytime a disagreement over viewpoints surfaces. In the future, when that happens, the USNI blog and myself can immediately direct such comments to this post and those disputes can be hashed out in this post without derailing future topics under discussion.

    Several comments have been made about tone and intent. All the points that have been raised are valid and need to be considered. My goal, when I make comments, concerning tone and intent is to present an attitude of being happy, benevolent, and respectful. However, I am also not afraid to step onto a guest bloggers porch and break my beer bottle, if I think that is necessary 🙂 Generally speaking, I will try to address the idea being discussed and not the actual individual involved in expressing the idea. I think this approach will limit the personal attacks and keep the focus on the ideas not the individuals. Over time, there will be a core group of regular readers and commenters(I predict their will be about 20 to 30 of us). As time progresses, we will eventually learn each others view points and styles and most of the issues being raised and discussed in this post will have been hashed out.

    In the meantime, I look at the process this way. The USNI blog is a new ship at sea in the blogging world. A group of individuals have answered the call of duty and are reporting on board. We are unpacking our sea bags and fighting for the best rack in the berthing area. This is going to take some time and I am actually enjoying the process.

    May the discussion continue and productive results follow.

  • doc75

    OK, I keep seeing here that CDR’s position was weak and inaccurate with occasional aspersions thrown at Fox News. The problem is that other news sources seem to be corroborating the story

    Take ADM Mullen’s comments about defense budget squeeze in Defense News:


    Or, Sen Carl Levin (D)’s comments as captured by Reuters:


    In Technology Review on page M22, Joseph Stiglitz, who advises Obama suggests: “If we cut back on our expenditures in Iraq and spend more time on municipalities, we could actually stimulate economic growth and cut the deficit simultaneously.” Despite the comment being about O&M funding, it does goes to show that despite spending trillions in stimulus that adds to the national deficit one can cut defense acquisition spending and reduce the deficit. Why? Because acquisition is part of the budget and the deficit only refers to the budget.

    Thus in the strange world of politics and economics, one can spend like an addicted gambler and yet claim to tighten his belt.

    Stick to your guns, CDR. Navy acquisition spending is going to be under pressure.

  • Alrighty then…

    Let’s see a show of digital hands.

    How many people commenting here are actually registered to comment on LGF?


  • Forgot to add, some stalker whack jobs are already using the LGF2 name.

    USNI will have to settle for LGF 3.0.


  • RickWilmes


    I’m curious, what value is there in registering and commenting on LGF?

  • Rick: Probably no more or less then basic social networking (that’s where I found out about CDR Sal’s blog). However, an awful lot of the LGF “scoops” have come out of those comments.

    I don’t know the actual numbers (only Charles would know that), but I’d guess that probably half of the story lines posted on any one day are inspired or influenced by earlier comments. I know I’ve gotten a couple of hat tips in my time there.

    OTOH, a good 70% or more of the comments are simple small talk, especially after a thread gets older.


  • RickWilmes


    Social networking? Interesting, I think I’ll stick to FB. I think I’ll move on to something more productive. Thanks for the discussion.

  • CMDR says:

    “Hmmmm, I think in the FEB Proceedings you will see a quote from someone who said, “we can have creative friction without conflict; respect begets respect.”

    This is exactly right, some brilliant dude said that and I only wish it was me.

    Blogging is an informal medium, and disagreement is what makes comments better, but keeping disagreement professional and respectful is important. My advice would be to never assume to know something you don’t know about other peoples politics are beliefs, and attempting a psychic read of someone’s thoughts over a network is truly foolish.

    Respect for others opinions and ideas, including those you disagree with, sets the right tone for debate and makes a blog attractive. That tone often becomes contagious, and adds value to any online community.