Should Barack Obama win the presidency, it is safe to say that he would allow liberal pressure groups to push for an end to the ban on women in combat. That door is already ajar thanks to the Bush Pentagon’s PC nudges. But under Obama it would be kicked wide open.
Obama, recall, at last summer’s CNN/You Tube debate said that he opposes a draft, but that if one occurred he would conscript men and women equally. None of the Democrats on stage could come up with a principle to reject that suggestion from the questioner, though perhaps Obama appeared the most evasive even as he cast such a proposed change as an egalitarian advance:
You know, a while back we had a celebration in the Capitol for the Tuskegee Airmen, and it was extraordinarily powerful because it reminded us, there was a time when African-Americans weren’t allowed to serve in combat.
And yet, when they did, not only did they perform brilliantly, but what also happened is they helped to change America, and they helped to underscore that we’re equal.
And I think that if women are registered for service — not necessarily in combat roles, and I don’t agree with the draft — I think it will help to send a message to my two daughters that they’ve got obligations to this great country as well as boys do.
His “not necessarily” hedge is not very reassuring. If the Democrats find themselves with the power to end the ban and send the bill to him, he would no doubt sign it.
The movement to topple the ban is already well advanced, picking up speed in recent weeks as the media, using the case of Monica Brown, focuses on the ambiguity of existing policy.
IF ONLY OPPORTUNISTICALLY, the media does have a point: Bush’s policy is a de facto women in combat policy. It has sent thousands of women into obvious combat situations while maintaining the technical fiction of these positions as “support” and not combat — a reality which the Pentagon’s practice of handing out “Combat Action Badges” to female soldiers reveals.
The historic pattern of one party implementing the other party’s agenda — Clinton enacting welfare reform, Nixon going to China, etc. — holds up on this issue too. One of Bush’s legacies will be a military more feminized and ripe for a full-blown policy of women in combat policy than Clinton’s military.
Despite the media’s feverish right-left dichotomies, Bush’s interest in fighting the culture war has been at best uneven and on an issue like this one pretty much nil. A few years back he did offer a passive reaffirmation of military tradition (“As far as I’m concerned,” no women in combat, he told the Washington Times, which suggested that the matter was out of his hands), but it is clear that his Pentagon officials lack the conviction to maintain that policy meaningfully.
According to USA Today cultural erosion on this matter has been massive: “74% of Americans agreed that women should be allowed to hold combat jobs, up from 36% in an NBC News poll that asked the same question in 1981.”
In 2005, when Republican lawmakers like Duncan Hunter tried to reverse the creeping changes, the Pentagon objected and killed the move. USA Today says that it can’t even find defenders of the traditional policy anymore: “When we sought a lawmaker to debate this issue today, several one-time critics of women in combat declined to write an opposing view.”
IN THIS CLIMATE, the Washington Post‘s recent story on Monica Brown, “Woman Gains Silver Star — And Removal From Combat,” has unstoppable propaganda value.
The injustice in the story from the Post‘s point of view is not that Bush’s Pentagon is exposing women to danger on the basis of a muddled policy. It is that the military doesn’t expose more women to danger by getting rid of it.
“Military officers in the field and independent experts have said it is both infeasible and contrary to the Army’s own warfighting doctrine to prevent women from serving in proximity to — or together with — all-male combat units in today’s war zones,” according to the Post. “They contend that if the goal of the policy is to protect women from capture or bodily harm, it cannot be done in the scramble of conflicts such as those in the Middle East.”
As if there were any doubts as to where the Post stands on the question, it gives the last word in the story to Staff Sergeant Aaron Best, who says of Brown, “I’ve seen a lot of grown men who didn’t have the courage and weren’t able to handle themselves under fire like she did.”
The liberal definition of equality as sameness between the sexes in all respects is bound to come to fruition under Obama. If so, a politician who campaigned on pulling female (and male) soldiers away from the dangers of this war will make history by exposing generations of mothers and daughters to future ones.
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