The past June, the Center for Security Policy awarded former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, father of the 600 ship Navy, with the Freedom Flame Award at the Union Club in New York City.
The Freedom Flame Award recognizes individuals who have exemplified the ideals of freedom, democracy, economic opportunity and international strength to which the Center for Security Policy is committed. The Award acknowledges the past contributions of its recipients while serving as a reminder that the goals for which they have worked so valiantly require the continuing, unflagging efforts of those who follow in their footsteps. Secretary Lehman was the recipient for his unwavering support for a strong national defense.
Secretary Lehman has a long and storied career with the military that started not actually with the Navy, but with the Air Force Reserve while studying at Cambridge. After 3 years of service, he transferred to the United States Naval Reserve where he entered with the rank of ensign.
While working his way up through the ranks of the Navy, Secretary Lehman held a variety of positions including: President of the Abington Corporation, delegate to the Mutual Balanced Force Reductions negotiations and Deputy Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
One of his greatest honors was serving as Secretary of the United States Navy from 1981 to 1987 where he was responsible for the management of 1.2 million people and an annual budget of $95 billion. During that time, John worked tirelessly to implement the “600 ship navy,” a program unveiled during the early days of the Reagan administration that sought to reverse the dismantling of America’s military capabilities that occurred under Jimmy Carter. Secretary Lehman fought hard for the necessary increases then, and his commitment to maintaining a robust military has not waned to this day.
In his acceptance speech [read the full transcript here] at the Freedom Flame Award Dinner, Secretary Lehman recalled the spirit of the ‘600 ship navy’ buildup, calling for strong leadership and a reeling in of the Pentagon bureaucracy to confront the declines in military readiness the United States currently faces.
We clearly have been unilaterally disarming our services over the last fifteen years. Our fleet is less than half the size, even though we’ve been spending in constant dollar terms almost twice as much in-adjusted for inflation-as President Reagan spent.
The world hasn’t gotten any smaller. The threats, while very different than the Cold War confrontation, are much more complex, much more varied, and much more disparate and less able to be dealt with by the kind of static and ordered forces that we were used to in the Cold War. So we’ve been steadily reducing our capability to act around the world. And we’ve been steadily reducing our capability to act around the world. And we’ve been doing it even while increasing the defense budget.
So I’m here to tell you that the problems we face today are very solvable. All it takes is a recognition of the problem and leadership. Seven hundred and fifty thousand bureaucrats are not needed. Nine percent a year is the attrition rate in the bureaucracy. So even a selective hiring freeze, not a total hiring, but a selective hiring freeze would shrink this bureaucracy down to a manageable size within four years.
So that’s my message. Yes, we are in a serious threat situation today. But, yes, we have the resources to turn this around and reassert American primacy as a defender of the free world. And all it takes, all it takes, is leadership.
As Secretary Lehman points out, the threat to the military is as acute now as it has ever been. Defense spending is at the lowest point it has been in 50 years, standing at a mere 3.9% of GDP and it appears, poised to decline further: despite calls from many top officials for increased spending Obama seeks to cut another $400 billion from the military over the next 12 years.
Unless this trend is reversed and strong leadership is enacted, the United States will again find themselves in a military situation much like Secretary Lehman did when he took over the Navy, underfunded, undersized, and out-of-date. The Center applauds Dr. Lehman for his efforts and will continue to work with him to ensure America’s military remains a dominant force for years to come.
Watch video from the 2011 Freedom Flame below.
First, Rabbi Aryeh Spero delivers a meaningful invocation. Next, the Center’s Chairman of the Board, E. Miles Prentice III, receives the Terry Elkes Sacred Honor Award for his philanthropic efforts on behalf of the Center. Then, Admiral James ‘Ace’ Lyons— former Commander-in-Chief of the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet– introduces Dr. Lehman. Finally, remarks by Dr. John Lehman, former Secretary of the US Navy.
Introductory Remarks by Adm. James “Ace” Lyons (USN, Ret.)
I’ve known John Lehman for many years. He has had more influence on the United States Navy than anybody since Teddy Roosevelt and the Great White Fleet. John learned early on about the Navy from his dad, who was captain of an LCS as a lieutenant junior grade and fought in the early battles for Okinawa. In his early college and graduate days, his inquisitive mind was put to full use. While he was at Cambridge, he spent many hours at the Tiki Lounge over a pint, discussing the issues of the day. It was there that he learned to hone his debating skills. Sometimes he was asked, why didn’t you go to Oxford? And he would reply, I was rejected when they found out my mother and father were married. It was at graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania where John met one of his mentors, Dr. Robert Strauss and it was through that relationship that brought John to Washington and where he joined the Nixon Administration and worked directly for Henry Kissinger and Richard Allen. It was under the master, Henry Kissinger that he learned to consolidate power, which he would put to good use later on. John was the Congressional liaison point man for the administration. This let him establish close working relationships with the defense titles on Capitol Hill. Such as Senator John Stennis, John Tower, and Henry Jackson. Later on, he was appointed by President Ford as the Deputy Director for the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. When Ronald Reagan won the presidency, he made a vow to build a six hundred ship Navy, to restore our maritime superiority. The man he chose to make that vow a reality was John Lehman.
Now, he was a young, politically-savvy, aggressive guy who knew how to get things done in Washington. He knew how to work the bureaucracy. You would have been-furthermore, he was also a qualified naval aviator who had flown combat missions in Vietnam, on his naval reserve active duty time. Now you would have thought the uniformed Navy would have greeted him with open arms. Not to be the case. He was greeted like a skunk at a picnic. What they wanted for a Secretary of the Navy was somebody they could pat on the head and send him off to make Navy-league speeches while they ran the Navy. Well, were they in for a surprise. John understood the culture of the Navy had to be changed. The programmers and budgeteers of the old-boy network were out. Operators were brought in. There was one delicate personal matter that every Secretary of the Navy had avoided like the plague. And that was how to retire Admiral Rickover gracefully. John devised the unique idea to make him the Special Adviser to the President for Nuclear Energy. Everything was set. Everything was set. They all marched in to the Oval Office. President Reagan, being the great gentleman that he was, warmly greeted the admiral, escorted him by the arm over to an armchair in front of the roaring fire, sat him down and started telling him how grateful the nation was for his years of service. At which point, Rickover interrupted him and said, ah, cut the crap. Why are you listening to these two piss ants? Pointing to John and Cap Weinberger. They don’t know what the hell they’re doing. And then he turned back to the President. He said, do you-do you know what you’re doing? Do you know how to be president? And it went downhill from there. Talk about one’s career flashing before his eyes. Fortunately, John survived the day and fortunate for the Navy. Because we were just emerging from the disastrous Carter years where the Navy had gone from over nine hundred ships and was down to four hundred and seventy-seven. Seventy-five of those ships were overdue for their major overhaul. We were down in every readiness category.
We had senators like Gary Hart advising Carter to build low-tech ships and small carriers. That was a formula for disaster. Come to think of it, I’m wondering did Hart advise Congressman Weiner? There were many challenges facing the Navy and John met them head on. He embraced a new maritime strategy which literally took the fleet into the Soviets’ backyard in the Atlantic and the Pacific. There was not going to be a maritime Maginot Line at the GIUK Gap in the Atlantic that sacrificed our NATO allies on the northern flank to the Soviets. He implemented innovative shipbuilding plans. He built high-tech ships like Aegis cruisers. Aegis-equipped Arleigh Burke destroyers. He implemented multi-year carrier buys, which literally saved the taxpayers billions of dollars. Excuse me. He used the same technique for aircraft procurement. There was one innovative shipbuilding program which was the conversion of two super-tankers into hospital ships, now called the Mercy and Comfort. These thousand bed hospital ships are the most sophisticated afloat trauma facilities in the world. They are what the Navy uses today to project humanity, to show the best of America. John streamlined the management system. He eliminated the naval material command along with a thousand bureaucrats. The Navy we have today is the Navy that John Lehman built in the 80s. And as I think Frank Gaffney stole one of my lines, that Navy has shrunk to two hundred and seventy-seven ships. Now, if John Lehman was Secretary of the Navy today, we would not be building these sorry-ass little, literal combat ships. That can’t defend themselves and have no offensive capability. Instead, he would be building the high-tech, twenty-first century, zoom-all class destroyer. Which is built from the keel up to be stealthy. And has the power and capabilities to defeat any potential enemies, weapons systems, now or in the future, including the Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile. John Lehman would not tolerate the political correctness disease that has infected every echelon of Navy leadership today. John resigned as Secretary of the Navy in April, 1987. He went into business and became a very successful investment banker. I got to say, I didn’t get anything out of it, but-but he continued to serve his country.
He was a valuable member of the 9-11 Commission. He literally devoted hundreds if not thousands of hours to that committee’s work. The committee had a number of important findings. None more important than the cache of NSA documents that were found literally days before the committee’s report went to press. In those documents, it provides proof positive of Iran’s involvement in 9-11, utilizing their Hezbollah terrorist proxy group. Now I want to take you back to 23 October, 1983. The day of the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, Lebanon where we lost two hundred and forty-one of our finest military personnel. We had proof positive information then Iran ordered the attacks. Actually, we had the information four weeks before. But I didn’t get to see it as the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations until two days after the bombing. And I showed John that message that day. Now, the Navy, working with the CIA, were able to identify the terrorist group as the Islamic Amal, which was the forerunner to Hezbollah. And where they were located at the Lebanese army barracks above Baalbek, which they took over months before with the help of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. We had the planes loaded not once, but twice. We had shown the attack plans to John, which he approved. But, unfortunately, as Secretary of the Navy, he was not in the operational chain of command. We were essentially going to wipe out the entire Iranian Hezbollah Islamic network. The entire proxy network. We were going to take those Lebanese army barracks and when we got through with them, they were going to look like a plowed cornfield. However, we could never get authorization to launch. And that’s a story for another day. John continued to serve his country by being a valuable member of the National Defense Commission, where he did yeoman work. So it is with a great honor and privilege that I present this year’s Freedom Flame Award to the honorable John F. Lehman, Jr.
Remarks of Dr. John Lehman, former Secretary of the US Navy
The title of my talk tonight – and I’m going to keep it really focused on the lessons, perhaps – is national security in an age of rising Asia, unholy terror, and fiscal crisis. Pretty daunting formula. But I really want to focus on the half-full part of the glass tonight, not the half-empty.
Those of you who are long-time supporters and newcomers alike to Frank’s fantastic organization know well enough the nature of the dangers that we face today and they are certainly severe. We have a deterioration of our capability to deter and keep the peace. We have the phenomenon of a China that is exploding in terms of its capabilities and its power and where they’re going to fit in the world and this is yet to be determined. And we have an Islamist movement that we, I think very effectively laid out to the world in our 9-11 Report, that is a new phenomenon. It’s worldwide. It’s not—well, it’s enabled by some, it is not part of any nation-state. And they’re focused on setting off a weapon of mass destruction to bring down the culture of the free world as we know it. These are real threats. We also, as a result of some very inept foreign policy, have really grown the problem and the threat of nuclear non-proliferation. Now we’ve shown that if you give up nuclear weapons like Mr. Gaddafi and President Mubarak, that you can be out like that. But if you defy the United States and the world community and pursue nuclear weapons like North Korea and Iran and Syria, you are immune from even being asked to resign by the United States and the United Nations.
So these are the three major areas of threat that we as a nation and our institutions face today. And I’m not going to dwell on the ramifications of them. I want to dwell on the solutions to these issues. The solutions to these problems. Because they’re very solvable in the sense of we can provide for our national security in this very threatening age with new kinds of threats. And I want to dwell on, as I said, the half-full part of the glass here tonight. Most recently, we showed that we do have a capability and, indeed, a national will to defend our interests with the dramatic bringing to justice, as was said, of Osama bin Laden. We have enormous capabilities. We have the ability to project power anywhere in the world. We have the capability to demonstrate to the Chinese, for instance, that we are able to maintain a balance. That we are not inevitably in decline. But we have not really been taking advantage of the inherent capability we have. And I want to talk a little bit about why that is the case. We clearly have been unilaterally disarming our services over the last fifteen years. Our fleet is less than half the size, even though we’ve been spending in constant dollar terms almost twice as much in—adjusted for inflation—as President Reagan spent. The Air Force is—the average age of the Air Force’s fleet of aircraft is twenty-eight years. And they have half the number of combat airplanes that they had at the height of the Reagan Administration.
The world hasn’t gotten any smaller. The threats, while very different than the Cold War confrontation, are much more complex, much more varied, and much more disparate and less able to be dealt with by the kind of static and ordered forces that we were used to in the Cold War. So we’ve been steadily reducing our capability to act around the world. And we’ve been doing it even while increasing the defense budget. And this is why I argue all the time with my conservative friends who are constantly campaigning for increasing the defense budget. The answer is, we’ve got to have more money given to defense to provide for this deterrent. We’re fighting, now, three wars. And yet we’re talking about cutting the defense budget. But the real nature of our unilateral disarmament is something very different. We face a crisis of, to put it very simply, bureaucratic bloat. It afflicts our intelligence community. It afflicts every one of our military services. And most importantly, it afflicts our defense department. Now just to throw a few—a few factoids your way from our recent commission report. When the Department of Defense was set up in 1947, the law limited it to fifty civilian staffers for the Secretary of Defense. Which at the time was larger than the White House staff. Today, there are seven hundred and fifty thousand civilian staff members of the Department of Defense. And every time there is a crisis that the media focuses on in defense procurement, Congress reacts by creating a new layer of bureaucracy. Last year, alone, they added twenty thousand new civil service slots to the Pentagon because the argument was, we have to reform defense procurement. Now, the whole Pentagon only holds twenty-five thousand people. And with one trice, they added another twenty thousand. That’s seven hundred and fifty now added to by twenty thousand. And the problem is that this bloat has afflicted every part of defense procurement. So the F-22 had to be stopped at a hundred and eighty-seven airplanes when it was supposed to have seven hundred. And the reason was, the price had gone up to three hundred and fifty million dollars a copy. And that wasn’t because the contractors were gouging or the services were gold-plating. It was because the program took twenty-four years from the time it was started until the first squadron deployed to Japan.
And time is money. And the reason it took twenty-four years was that there are now forty requirements committees that have to approve every single action taken on a major ACAB [PH] one or two program. All of these seven hundred and fifty thousand bureaucrats have to have things to do. It is exactly the same thing in the Navy Department, for example. In World War Two, we built a thousand ships a year. At the time the Bureau of Ships, which was in charge of building ships, had a thousand bureaucrats. One thousand. Most of them were graduate engineers, graduates of MIT, members of the Engineering Duty Officer Corps Elites. When I was secretary and Ace was running the Pacific Fleet, it had grown to four thousand people. And we were building twenty-eight ships a year. Not a thousand ships a year. Today, we’ve been averaging five ships a year—of the ships that Ace was a little derisive of, shall we say. Rather than battleships or carriers. And the bureaucracy of new ships, now called NAP-C, is twenty-five thousand bureaucrats. Twenty-five thousand bureaucrats. So I won’t dwell too much on this because I said I was going to talk about the half-full part of the glass. But the intelligence community suffers exactly the same bloat. And in the 9-11 Commission, we recommended that we create a Director of National Intelligence to break down this bureaucracy, to cut it, to reduce it, to break down the layers, to tear down the stove pipe so information could be shared. It’s far too bloated. Too many bureaucrats. Fifteen different agencies. Well, unfortunately, instead, while Congress did what the Commission asked and passed the law, the Bush Administration turned it on its head and created a DNI without the powers to cut and gave them a staff of two thousand additional bureaucrats. Now that’s beyond belief. Well, now to the full part of the glass. The fact is that all it takes is leadership to reverse this and it can be reversed in a short period of time. Most of you are New Yorkers here.
When I moved to New York in 1988, it really was a cesspool of a city. It was filthy. It was disgusting. The trash wasn’t collected on time. You couldn’t walk down for a half an hour into Midtown without seeing a robbery or something. Squeegee bums on every major corner. And then suddenly we had—a leader was elected. And within three months, the squeegee bums were gone. The trash started to get collected. The streets were starting to be cleaned. The taxis were forced to turn on air conditioners. The city was transformed. At that time, New York had twice the crime rate of London. Today, the streets are clean. The subways work. The taxis are air-conditioned. No squeegee bums. The crime rate is forty percent less than London today. Everybody said, “New York is ungovernable. That’s just the way it is, you know. It’s always been that way.” Well, it’s not true. And in the 9-11 Commission, we pointed out that every bit of intelligence showed that New York was the epicenter of the targeting of al-Qaeda and every other Islamist group and that we did not have in New York anything approaching the kind of command and control or communications that could deal with that threat. As demonstrated by the inability of the cops to talk to the firemen and all of the casualties that resulted. Well, today, I’m pleased to tell you that New York, in my judgment and all of the other 9-11 people, is the safest city in the world. Because of leadership: Ray Kelly and two fine mayors. They’ve led the country and the country—most of the municipalities have tried to emulate New York. Now the cops are put in charge of the command centers in any crisis. Now the cops have the most sophisticated military communications to talk under any circumstances, in tunnels, on subways, to all of the—to all of the other first responders and the authorities.
We have the best, in New York, counter-terrorism center in the world. If I were president, I’d be briefed by Ray Kelly’s counter-terrorism center. They have the best, absolutely the best. Everybody said it couldn’t be done. It was done. And it was done fast by leadership. Ace Lyons, as I said, should have been the awardee tonight. Because everybody said when Reagan came in, all of the moss back admirals and the trendy OSD intellectuals and the people on the Hill said, you can’t take the fleet north of the GIUK gap, you can’t survive up there. NATO’s official doctrine said the fleet will get decimated within days by the Russian fleet. Ace Lyons, who had second fleet, said oh, yes, we can. And I’ll show you how to do it. And he took five carriers up there in September of 1981. And he kicked the Soviets’ ass from one side of the Norwegian Sea to the other.
And the reason we know this, still some classified sources that we can’t talk about, but three years ago, I was invited to Norway for a conference with my counterparts from the Russian high command to talk about the Reagan strategy, a forward strategy of practicing, going up there every year, showing we could not only survive, but we could run mock attacks against the Soviet Union. The White Sea. We did the same thing on the Northern Pacific. And these Russians said that their own wargaming and ops analysis showed that the longest their fleet had ever survived against Ace and his successors in these annual exercises was one week. And the entire fleet was gone. This is from the Russians. This is from the Russians. And it was the input of these general staff people who went, in 1986, back with a major position to the politburo that they had to triple the budget for defenses in the northern flank or the Soviet Union would lose the war. And it was that, that had, we now know from other intelligence sources, had a thunderclap impact on the leadership that eventually started glasnost and so forth. So I’m here to tell you that the problems we face today are very solvable. All it takes is recognition of the problem and leadership. Seven hundred and fifty thousand bureaucrats are not needed. Nine percent a year is the attrition rate in the bureaucracy. So even a selective hiring freeze, not a total hiring, but a selective hiring freeze would shrink this bureaucracy down to a manageable size within four years. Plus you have early retirements. Plus you have plenty of other tools that are available that could get back to the fine people that are in there that want to get these things done. So that’s my message. Yes, we are in a serious threat situation today. But, yes, we have the resources to turn this around and reassert American primacy as a defender of the free world. And all it takes, all it takes, is leadership. So on that note, I’m—I would like to thank you, I’m deeply honored for this—receiving this award, Frank, and keep up what you’re doing because you’ve done more to really articulate and get across to the leadership of the country the nature of this threat than anyone else I know. Thank you.