Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has vowed to boost the size of the Navy by roughly 15 percent as part of a broader defense buildup. “Our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917,” he complained in Monday night’s debate. “That’s unacceptable to me.”
But for one of Romney’s most important advisers on Navy issues, a man who oversaw a massive naval expansion for Pres. Ronald Reagan, there’s more at stake than U.S. national security. John Lehman, an investment banker and former secretary of the Navy, has strong and complex personal financial ties to the naval shipbuilding industry. He has profited hugely from the Navy’s slow growth in recent years — raising the prospect that he could make even more if Romney takes his advice on expanding the fleet.
That doesn’t mean that a bigger or better Navy is necessarily a bad idea. But it does complicate Romney’s claim that a larger Navy would merely be “matched to the interests we need to protect.” A bigger maritime force has the possibility of personally enriching one of the candidate’s top advisers. In fact, it already has.