I don’t know if part of the rationale for yesterday’s kinda’-sorta’ out-of-left-field announcement that the Pentagon is lifting the ban on women serving in direct combat is supposed to be some kind of barrier-breaking, legacy-building last hurrah for Leon Panetta, but if that’s the case, I’m not sure that that legacy will be a very positive one. There’s been no dearth of criticism for the idea from veterans, including from one former Republican Congressman Allen West:
However, to make the insidious policy decision that we shall now open up combat billets to women is something completely different. GI Jane was a movie and should not be the basis for a policy shift. I know Martha McSally, have known women who are Apache and Cobra helicopter pilots, and served with women who were MPs, but being on the ground and having to go mano y mano in close combat is a completely different environment.
I completely disagree with this decision and can just imagine all the third and fourth order effects and considerations for implementation, such as standards for training. Unless the Obama administration has not noticed we are fighting against a brutal enemy and now is not the time to play a social experiment with our ground combat forces. President Obama, as Commander-in-Chief, should be focused on sequestration and the failure of his policies in the Middle East. This is the misconceived liberal progressive vision of fairness and equality which could potentially lead to the demise of our military.
The WSJ ran a pretty persuasive op-ed to a similar effect from former Marine Ryan Smith, who points out that social norms are not something you can just toss aside, especially in assessing a combat unit’s cohesion and efficiency:
We had not showered in well over a month and our chemical protective suits were covered in a mixture of filth and dried blood. We were told to strip and place our suits in pits to be burned immediately. My unit stood there in a walled-in compound in Baghdad, naked, sores dotted all over our bodies, feet peeling, watching our suits burn. Later, they lined us up naked and washed us off with pressure washers.
Yes, a woman is as capable as a man of pulling a trigger. But the goal of our nation’s military is to fight and win wars. Before taking the drastic step of allowing women to serve in combat units, has the government considered whether introducing women into the above-described situation would have made my unit more or less combat effective?
How exactly this is going to play out technically is still to be determined; lifting the ban on women in combat isn’t quite the same as instantly opening all combat roles to women. The services will have until January 2016 to defend cases in which they think women should be kept out of certain roles, but there will definitely be plenty of political fallout and intentional cultural boat-rocking in the meantime — because President Obama and the Democrats now have another specific item to tout whenever they want to revive their “war on women” meme, besides the Lily Ledbetter Act: Actual war on women.