Small Wars Journal

It’s Time to Sink the Secretary of the Navy

It’s Time to Sink the Secretary of the Navy

Gary Anderson

Navy Secretary (SECNAV) Ray Mabus has a dream. He wants the kindest, gentlest, and greenest Navy and Marine Corps that money can buy. The ability to fight and win our nation’s wars can’t be allowed to get in the way of the Mabus vision; he is determined to plow under anyone or anything that interferes with what he thinks is really important. So far, Mabus has done a heck of a job in pursuing his goals. Why then has Congressman Duncan Hunter called for the Secretary of Defense to fire him? Why has that same defense secretary questioned his SECNAV’s judgment in a memo? Why are admirals and general officers in the naval service lighting candles in church in the hopes that Mabus will be canned?

Perhaps it is because Secretary Mabus is pursuing biofuels that will eat up scarce dollars desperately needed for modernization. Maybe it is because has blazed the trail for women in combat despite the fact that all studies conducted on the subject have shown that mixed male-female units perform almost all combat tasks worse than all-male units. It might be that, if Mabus has his way, maternity leave will be increased to eighteen weeks; he hasn’t yet identified what weapons systems won’t be bought or repaired to fund that dubious innovation.  The naval services are unwillingly becoming the cutting edge of the fight to push progressive values in the Defense Department. Unfortunately, if we have another year of Mabus, it may be the only fight they can win.

The final straw for Congressman Hunter was an arbitrary decision on the part of SECNAV to order the Marine Corps to fully integrate its “boot camp” and officer Candidate School recruit training programs which are largely credited as the basis of its storied combat performance without consulting the Marine Corps leadership and then giving the Corps fifteen days to come up with a plan to make it happen.  Worse still, Mabus has impugned the integrity of the Marine Corps’ leadership. This SECNAV has lost the trust and confidence of the career professionals he purports to lead by accusing them of rigging studies.

During the fight to pass the Goldwater-Nichols military reform legislation in the 1980’s, there was an argument to do away with the service secretariats as redundant relics of a bygone era. Many who argued for service secretary retention pointed out that each of the services needed an advocate in civilian defense policy and budget making circles. Over the years, several SECNAVs have proven the wisdom of that argument.

John Lehman restored the morale of the Navy after the disastrous leadership of Admiral Elmo Zumwalt; incidentally, Mabus is naming a ship after Zumwalt. Unlike Mabus, Lehman successfully pushed the Reagan administration and Congress to expand the fleet to a point that the Soviet Union could not keep up. Lehman’s fleet building program was one of the elements that broke the back of the Soviet state. Mabus, on the other hand, is having trouble convincing the Obama administration to implement his modest attempt to lift the Navy from the smallest size that it has suffered since World War I. The intellectual weakness of the SECNAV’s arguments were apparently what caused Defense Secretary Carter to question his judgment in a formal memo.

When Defense Department bureaucrats tried to get gut the Lehman shipbuilding program, Lehman’s successor Jim Webb resigned in protest when he realized that he was losing; he chose the good of the country over his political career.

Sean O’Keefe, Webb’s successor, rebuilt the morale of naval aviation and restored the moral reputation of its pilots following the disastrous Tail Hook scandal of the early 1990’s. Democrat Richard Danzig strongly supported the Marine Corps urban experimentation program that largely enabled its superb performance in battles such as Fallujah and Ramadi in 2004-7. Until Mabus appeared on the scene, the modern SECNAV position generally earned its keep, and had the confidence of the uniformed members of the naval services; all that is now gone.

Mabus is instituting policies that will degrade the combat readiness of the Navy and Marine Corps, two of our most trusted institutions. If the President and Secretary of Defense truly believe that global warming and lack of diversity are the greatest threats to national security, they have the right guy as Navy Secretary. But it is becoming increasingly obvious that the American people and Congress have other concerns. Hunter is right; Mabus should go. Who is more qualified to be SECNAV?  Hunter thinks any of the 12,668 Marine officers on active duty.