Passport

Syria is Iran's "route to the sea" and other geography blunders

In last night's debate with President Obama, Gov. Mitt Romney ran into trouble when he suggested that "Syria is Iran's...route to the sea." The remark unleashed a torrent of geography sticklers (see here, here, here, and here) who pointed out that Syria and Iran don't share a border (Iraq is in between) and that Iran has 1,500 miles of its own coastline along the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman.

The comment wasn't Romney's first geography flub. In the infamous video of a Florida fundraiser released by Mother Jones in September, Romney suggested that a Palestinian state in the West Bank would border either "Syria at one point or Jordan." This, as FP blogger Daniel Drezner pointed out, doesn't make a whole lot of sense because "Whatever contours a possible Palestinian state would have, it won't border Syria."  

Of course, Romney isn't the only one with creative geography. In a campaign stop in Oregon in 2008, Obama famously said, "I've now been in 57 states? I think one left to go."

So Romney's in good company, and hey, at least he didn't try to diagnose the "situation on the Iraq-Pakistan border" like Sen. John McCain did in 2008.

Wiki Commons

Passport

Does the military still have horses and bayonets?

Judging from the social media reaction, this was probably the most memorable line of Monday night's debate:

You — you mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets — (laughter) — because the nature of our military’s changed.

This got us wondering, does the military still use bayonets? 

Sort of. The Army eliminated bayonet charges from basic training in 2010.  The last U.S. bayonet battle was in 1951, when Capt. Lewis Milett led a charge against a fortified position on a hill in Soam-Ni, Korea, earning the medal of honor in the process. In 2004, a group of British troops running low on ammunition, launched a bayonet charge against a group of Mahdi Army militiamen. According to the after-action report, the charge "achieved tactical success primarily because of psychological and cultural factors. ... this case, the value of surprise, countering enemy expectations, and strict troop discipline were three deciding characteristics of the bayonet charge."

While no longer all that useful on the battlefield, military historian Richard Kohn told the Christian Science Monitor in 2010 that the U.S. Army kept bayonet training for as long as it did as a way "to develop in soldiers aggressiveness, courage, and preparation for close combat” and “basically to try to mitigate or eradicate the reluctance of human beings to kill each other.”

While Army recruits no longer charge dummies with bayonets fixed to their rifles, they do still receive training on how to use a knife or bayonet as a handheld secondary weapon in close combat. And as the Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran notes, U.S. marines still train with bayonets and many are issued them as standard equipment. 

As for horses, the military does still have some -- both for ceremonial purposes and for training Special Forces troops. In 2001, U.S. Special Forces famously joined with Northern Alliance fighters in a horseback assault on the Taliban at Mazar-e-Sharif. Mules have also played an important role in transporting supplies over Afghanistan's rough terrain. 

So the military does indeed* have fewer horses and bayonets these days, but they haven't completely gone the way of the dreadnought. 

*Update: The Wall Street Journal's Julian Barnes points out that there were only about 200,000 Army troops in 1916, make it unlikely that there were more than the 419,155 that the Army still has in inventory. It's a veritable golden age of the bayonet we're living in. 

Barry Williams/Getty Images