Politics & Policy

Combating P.C. in The Military

The U.S. Army is among the last institutions that Americans expect to fall prey to political correctness. Yet fall prey is has, as Reps. Duncan Hunter (R., Calif.) and John McHugh (R., N.Y.) are finding out.

Hunter and McHugh are promoting an amendment to prevent women from serving in units that provide support to ground-combat battalions. The House Armed Services Committee will consider the amendment this week. Although the Army bureaucracy is waging a public-relations war to defeat it, it deserves the support of anyone who cares about the safety and success of our troops–and, most especially, President Bush, who has said recently that he opposes assigning women to ground combat.

The amendment is little more than a codification of current regulation. Right now, women are excluded from ground combat, as well as from assignment to battalion-size or smaller units that “collocate [i.e., operate side by side] routinely with units assigned a direct ground combat mission.” Until recently, this meant in practice that the support troops who accompanied combat battalions were all men.

Federal law requires the secretary of Defense to give Congress advance notice of any change to this policy. But–without gaining the Defense secretary’s authorization, let alone serving notice to Congress–Army Secretary Francis Harvey has introduced the deployment of women in forward-support companies that are embedded in ground-combat battalions. He skirted the existing regulation by offering a novel rewording of it: Women, he claimed, are barred only from units that are “conducting an assigned direct ground combat mission” (emphasis added). In other words, women are allowed to accompany combat battalions except during the moments in which those battalions are fighting the enemy.

“An average female soldier

is five inches shorter than her

male counterpart, and has half

the upper-body strength and a lower

aerobic capacity.”

This musteline word game looks trivial, but its consequences are not. Historically, all support troops accompanying combat battalions were men, and were therefore permitted to serve on the battlefield; but now, women must be evacuated when hostilities begin, lest they “collocate” with a unit that is “conducting” a combat mission. Of 225 positions in a forward-support company, 24 are now open to women. On the eve of battle, then, a forward-support company could suddenly lose more than one-tenth of its soldiers. Moreover, large numbers of vehicles and personnel would be diverted from their normal tasks in order to spirit the women away.

Neither of these problems obtained before the recent change. If it is such a marvelous idea, why didn’t the Army simply get Donald Rumseld on board and notify Congress, as required by law? The Army’s surreptitiousness invites inquiry into its motives. A supposed shortage of men has been adduced, but no evidence of this shortage has been given; and, if it does exist, the Army should simply look for more qualified men, rather than continue to fill arbitrary recruiting quotas for women.

Duncan and McHugh’s amendment is supported by biological fact. An average female soldier is five inches shorter than her male counterpart, and has half the upper-body strength and a lower aerobic capacity. While the courageous women of our military do many things as well as men, the heavy lifting of ground-combat support isn’t one of them.

Of course, these facts mean little to those whose purpose is to make a point about gender equality. They include the Army’s Clintonized generals–who, one suspects, are the real force behind Harvey’s innovation. Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, recently wrote: “More than one general has told me that the objective [of allowing women in forward support companies] is to ‘grow’ the careers of female officers, including their own daughters.”

That’s a fine goal. The thought of its attainment will bring great comfort to the wounded Marine who lies on the ground, bleeding to death, because no one is there to carry him to safety.

Diplomacy’s Over

For a brief moment last week it looked as though Europe’s tireless efforts to bribe Iran into giving up key parts of its nuclear program had finally come to an end. After the latest round of negotiations concluded in deadlock, Iran threatened to resume suspended fuel-cycle activities, prompting the Europeans to suggest they were ready to get tough. “…We certainly will support referral to the U.N. Security Council if Iran breaches its undertakings and obligations,” said Britain’s Tony Blair. Soon afterward, however, Iran conceded that it might postpone the resumption of uranium reprocessing, leaving an opening for yet another round of talks. A senior Iranian negotiator even told news sources over the weekend that Iran was close to an agreement with the Europeans that would allow them to continue some of the now-frozen activities.

Of course, were the Europeans genuinely concerned about preventing a nuclear Iran, they probably would have stopped this diplomatic game months ago–and they would certainly be calling it quits now. If the latest failure reveals anything, it is that the mullahs are dead set on maintaining the nuclear fuel cycle, and that no quantity of Western “carrots” will persuade them to relinquish it (remember that the United States also threw its weight behind the latest talks, promising among other things to remove its objection to Iran’s joining the World Trade Organization should Tehran submit to Europe’s entirely reasonable demands). Despite Tehran’s intractability–and despite mounting concerns about a secret military nuclear program in Iran–it appears the EU3 will continue to coddle the mullahs, effectively letting the clock run out until they have acquired their bomb. Europe may already be resigned to that eventuality.

This puts the Bush administration in a tough position. But while it would be nice to have European support for sending Iran to the Security Council, that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon, and it is foolish to wait any longer to try different approaches. Congress is considering legislation that would tighten existing U.S. sanctions, prevent U.S. subsidiaries from doing business in Iran, and reduce aid to countries whose businesses invest there. The threat of precision military strikes also remains on the table, as it should; the Pentagon recently announced that it plans to sell Israel 100 “bunker-buster” bombs, which can attack underground facilities such as those reportedly used by Iran. And of course there is Iran’s pro-democratic population, which may be the United States’ greatest weapon against the mullahs.

If there was any doubt before, there should be none now: Diplomacy with Iran has run its course, even if the EU3 are adamant about maintaining the charade.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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