BOCA RATON, Fla. -- President Barack Obama's "horses and bayonets" zinger, shooting down Mitt Romney's concerns about the state of the Navy, may have drawn reproach from Republicans, who called it "petty" and "belittling." But at least one former Navy secretary told The Huffington Post after Monday night's foreign policy debate that Obama was right on the mark.
"I thought the president's line was terrific," said Richard Danzig, who served as secretary of the Navy for two years under President Bill Clinton. "You don't measure efficacy by the number of ships. You measure it by your firepower, by the character of your people, the character of your equipment."
During the Boca Raton debate, Romney repeated his campaign call to build new ships for the Navy and accused Obama of allowing the number of ships to drop to its lowest point since 1917.
"I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works," Obama replied. "Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater -- nuclear submarines."
After the debate, Romney aides and surrogates decried the line as unbecoming of the president and a sign of Obama's "desperation."
"I think the president belittled the military," said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). "He compared the modern Navy to bayonets and horses -- I thought that was an amazing statement."
"Romney looked like a commander in chief," added Dan Senor, a top Romney foreign policy adviser. "President Obama looked like a frustrated politician who knew he was losing momentum. He looked angry."
But Danzig, who was himself in Boca Raton as a campaign surrogate for the president, said that he wishes Obama had said more, namely that Romney's claim was also incorrect.
"The basic point that didn't get mentioned, that I would add, is the number of ships actually went down during the years of George W. Bush and have gone up in the Obama years," Danzig said. "So the notion that Republicans are more effective in building the Navy is not a correct one."
"The Navy is stronger than it's ever been," he added.
The independent fact-checking site Politifact has ranked Romney's claim that the Navy is the smallest it's been since 1917 as a "pants on fire" falsehood.