Politics & Policy

The Obama Pentagon’s Disastrous Decision on Women in Combat

Female Marine Corps recruits at Parris Island, S.C., February 2013. (Scott Olson/Getty)

With its decision mandating that the Pentagon open all combat jobs to women, the Obama administration has put social justice over combat readiness.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter made it clear that the military would be fully gender-integrated. “There will be no exceptions,” he said. “As long as they qualify and meet the standards,” women can serve in the infantry, in the special forces, and in any other military capacity in each branch of service, including the Marine Corps.

Carter made this decision in spite of extensive evidence — put forward by the Marines — that mixed-gender units were less capable than their all-male counterparts. They were less accurate with their weapons, the women were twice as likely to be injured, and mixed-gender units were less capable of evacuating the wounded from the battlefield. Indeed, the strongest women were only as strong as the weakest men.

A public and political class largely insulated from the realities of ground combat has become ignorant of its excruciating and unforgiving physical demands. Prolonged infantry operations — including operations common in the War on Terror — place immense strains on the mind and body. Unit cohesion is critical, and physical breakdowns can be costly both to combat power and to unit morale.

Moreover, given how beholden the administration is to the Left, there is no reason to believe that it will hold firm on physical standards if few women prove capable of joining and — crucially — thriving in the infantry environment. Experience with less demanding jobs in law enforcement and firefighting shows that the legal and political pressure to lower standards will be immense. Under the best of circumstances, combat effectiveness will be degraded.

RELATED: Women in Combat Endanger Their Fellow Soldiers’ Lives

While Carter cited the relatively smooth integration of openly gay service members as precedent for the policy, the comparison is inapt. Gay and straight men are of course physically identical, and there is zero evidence that sexual orientation has an impact on basic combat tasks. Gender, on the other hand, can make a decisive difference in physical capability.

Supporters of the decision to integrate combat units frequently point to the Israel Defense Forces as a model, but the IDF has in fact limited its gender integration. Units at the tip of the spear – those engaged in classic infantry combat – are all-male, and the IDF does not allow women to serve in tanks, because it found that women were less physically capable and that it was “problematic” for men and women to serve in close and confined quarters for days at a time.

#share#Obviously, placing men and women together in extraordinarily close living conditions under situations of ultimate stress can and will lead to romantic entanglements on the battlefield, with all the associated ramifications for unit cohesion and morale. Moreover, it is entirely likely that men in infantry units will incur extraordinary additional risk to protect the women in their ranks, especially since a ruthless enemy will probably exert tremendous effort to exploit any physical weaknesses or to capture a female prisoner of war.

It is telling that Carter announced the administration’s decision without the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Marine general Joseph Dunford, standing by his side. In lieu of attending the press conference, Dunford issued a statement that described his role as providing “candid best military advice” and then following Carter’s orders, ensuring that “his decision is properly implemented.”

RELATED: Putting Women in Combat Is an Even Worse Idea Than You’d Think

While we have no hope that the Obama administration will reverse course, the next administration will have an opportunity to change policy well before women are fully integrated into ground-combat roles. It will take a measure of political courage, but an inevitable hashtag campaign and a storm of angry editorials are a small price to pay for protecting American warriors.

We have no doubt that the military will strive to maintain its striking power, and we have no doubt that the women who seek to serve in ground-combat positions are every bit as courageous and patriotic as their male colleagues. Courage and patriotism, however, cannot lift wounded comrades, aim and fire heavy weapons, or make ligaments and bones stronger or more durable. The Obama administration has made a grave mistake. 

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

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