Romney makes debatable claims about military

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, campaigns at Eastern Ship Building in Pensacola, Fla., Saturday, Jan. 28, 2012. AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, campaigns at Eastern Ship Building in Pensacola, Fla., Jan. 28, 2012.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

PANAMA CITY, Fla. - Campaigning in Florida's conservative Panhandle, Mitt Romney on Saturday trained his fire on President Obama's military record, particularly the size of the U.S. armed forces compared with the past.

"Do you realize our Navy is now smaller than any time since 1917? Our Air Force is older and smaller than any time since it was founded in 1947," Romney said. "We have always, since the days of FDR, we've had the capacity to fight two wars at a time, not that we wanted to, but we wanted to have that kind of safety and capacity to defend ourselves. This president is changing that policy saying, 'Oh no, we'll only be able to fight one war at a time.'"

After Romney made similar statements about the Navy and Air Force during a debate in South Carolina, PolitFact labeled them "Pants on Fire," the fact-checking site's lowest ranking for accuracy.

PolitFact said each of the final four years under George W. Bush's term as president saw lower levels of active ships than any of the three years under President Obama. It also said that his statement about the size of the Air Force was credible, but military experts agree that counting the number of ships or aircraft is not a good measurement of defense strength because their capabilities have increased dramatically in recent decades.

Romney's comments about the two-wars strategy is in response to the Obama administration's recent proposal to trim the size of the military as an acknowledgment of both the current budget realities and what the administration considers a "more realistic" approach to defense policy.

Other Republicans have harshly criticized the move, but the notion that the U.S. could - or should - have the ability to fight two wars at once has long been largely a fiction.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld argued that the so-called "two-war doctrine" was outdated more than a decade ago, and his successor, Robert Gates, regularly said that there was no foreseeable possibility of large-scale ground conflicts in the near future.

Romney has seen his poll numbers climb in recent days as he and his surrogates have waged an aggressive attack on Newt Gingrich, his chief rival. He told the crowd that the former Speaker "was given the opportunity to lead our party," but that "he failed."

Greeting well-wishers during the rally, Romney sounded a note of confidence about the Sunshine State primary. "I just feel like things are going in our direction," he said. "I am hoping for a big turnout, and I think we are going to win here - I sure hope so."

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