Political Hay

Does Bush Care?

Would conservatives have allowed Bill Clinton to embed women in combat brigade units?

By 5.20.05

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Over the objections of George Bush's military, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Cal.) passed an amendment to a defense authorization bill on Wednesday that would prevent the Army from placing female soldiers in "direct ground combat" units. Bush's military has been forming the beginnings of a coed front line, placing women in these forward support units, which is a violation of the law. Unable in private to persuade Pentagon officials to observe their own stated prohibition (which they cannot change without congressional approval), Hunter had to resort to legislation to codify it, reports the Washington Times.

The San Diego congressman deserves kudos for resisting the military's accelerating political correctness. Since George Bush hasn't shown any real interest in this problem (he passively said in January that "as far as I'm concerned," "no women in combat," which makes it sound as if the matter is out of his hands even though he is the commander-in-chief of the military), and Donald Rumsfeld doesn't appear to care either (his spokesman told the Washington Times that women in forward support companies "is not an issue he has delved into a lot"), Hunter's legislation is critical.

One would think that George Bush might feel alarm, or even a little embarrassment, at the sight of his Army officials this week joining forces with Democratic feminists like Loretta Sanchez (D-Cal.) to oppose Hunter's legislation. His Army's condemnation of it sounded like something Hillary Clinton could have crafted. "The proposed amendment will cause confusion in the ranks and will send the wrong signal to the brave young men and women fighting the global war on terrorism," wrote General Richard A. Cody, the Army vice chief of staff, in "a letter of protest for use by Rep. Ike Skelton, Missouri Democrat," reports the Washington Times.

One of Bush's improbable legacies may end up being a military more feminized than Bill Clinton's. As of this spring, 17,000 female soldiers had been dispatched to Iraq and Afghanistan, many of them serving in de facto combat roles, thanks to his military's fudging of the line between combat and noncombat positions. Could the ban on women in combat be abolished altogether under a Republican president? Yes, and if it does, it will be one more irony of American history showing that momentous cultural transformations often take place under "conservative" presidents who lull their constituents into a sense of complacency.

It is hard to imagine conservatives sitting on their hands if Bill Clinton's military had begun embedding women in combat brigade units. Or if Clinton, as Bush's military did recently, began handing out "combat" awards to women in technically noncombat roles. Bush's Pentagon is giving female soldiers in jobs like truck driving "Combat Action Badges," a sign that it has fully accepted, and celebrates, the concept of women in combat.

And how would conservatives have responded if Clinton, upon seeing female soldiers returning to their children in body bags or maimed, declared his pride at the progress these tragedies represented? Bush's military has adopted this sick notion of progress, issuing happy press releases that relate how "women are exposed to combat danger as they perform aviation missions, ground convoy security, united resupply operations, and a host of other critical functions."

At the very moment America needs a stronger Army, Bush's Pentagon is fooling around with ideological experiments that are weakening it. The unlawful collocation policy that Duncan Hunter's legislation seeks to correct is a stunning illustration of the Army's willingness to pursue a feminist agenda at the expense of military effectiveness. The policy has no military rationale. Indeed, it seems designed to make it more likely that the military will lose battles, as it requires (according to the Army's own description of the policy) "evacuating" female troops embedded in these brigade units should they run into battle conditions. Assets and attention needed to win the battle will be dissipated in order to move female troops to the rear, all so that politically correct generals can pat themselves on the back for giving women the chance to advance in their military careers through the quasi-combat experience of collocation.

The bizarre logic at work here is that female troops can never become generals overseeing combat strategy and front-line troops unless they get some sort of combat experience under their belts, and if that means rearranging the military so that it goes into battle with additional burdens, so be it.

In this new ethos of "equality" -- in which its imperatives, not military need, drive strategy -- the door barring women from combat, opened a few cracks by the Clinton administration, will be torn off its hinge by Bush's military. That is, unless rank-and-file Republicans wake up to what is happening and join Duncan Hunter to stop it.

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author, with Phyllis Schlafly, of the new book, No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.