Beware: Congress makes strategic decisions through budgets all the time

Homer cake

So Congress reached a budget deal Thursday night and we slothful federal employees slept through the latest government shutdown. And drank champagne and ate cake all day Friday to celebrate! Mmmm . . . cake.

The agreement sounds promising from a maritime standpoint. Lawmakers allocated more to the armed forces than the White House requested, and naval leaders sounded an upbeat note heading into the 2019 budget process. Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson, to name one, voiced hopes that the much-anticipated buildup to 355 ships will commence in earnest after a year of concentrating on upkeep and maintenance for the fleet. “Let’s get building,” urged Admiral Richardson. So say we all!

But. I have a sneaking suspicion Admiral J. C. Wylie, among the best in the biz of martial theory, would counsel us to temper our hopes for the larger U.S. Navy our Republic sorely needs. Hope is not a strategy. Much work remains to be done communicating the navy’s purposes and practices to budgeteers and those they represent.

Wylie served on the Naval War College faculty during the rotten postwar years when the navy’s very existence was in jeopardy. Things came to that sorry pass in large measure because naval officers excelled at their profession’s technical side but had little vocabulary or skill for explaining to Congress and the electorate why the navy did what it did, and why it needed the ships, planes, and armaments the leadership said it did.

Were Wylie here, then, he might point to his own lifetime as a cautionary tale for friends of the U.S. Navy. He declared that Congress makes strategic decisions through the budget process all the time. Lawmakers might make poor strategy by holding military funding hostage to disputes over unrelated subjects like, say, immigration policy. Or they might make good decisions — but mostly by happenstance.

Educating them is the only solution. Accordingly, it behooves naval officialdom to hone its skills at rhetoric. Let’s explain ourselves to the people and their representatives early, often, and convincingly.