Pen­tagon rules ex­clud­ing women not worth de­fend­ing

The De­fense De­part­ment can fi­nally end the ex­clu­sion rules and make the law­suit moot.

Austin American-Statesman - - BALANCED VIEWS - FROM THE LEFT Mon­day Tues­day Wed­nes­day Thurs­day Kayyem writes for the Bos­ton Globe. Fri­day Satur­day Sun­day


has come to this. Four mil­i­tary women, each hav­ing served in Afghanistan or Iraq, have sued the Pen­tagon over its com­bat ex­clu­sion rules.

The plain­tiffs — Maj. Mary Jen­nings He­gar of Round Rock is among them — come from the Rosa Parks school of ac­tivism:

They only want what they de­serve. Each one ei­ther faced the en­emy, won the Pur­ple Heart or been in­jured by IEDs on the streets of Bagh­dad or Kabul. Their le­gal com­plaint takes on the con­fus­ing rules that pro­hibit them from “com­bat,” and yet, be­cause of the na­ture of war­fare to­day, al­low them to fight.

The fact that the mil­i­tary doesn’t give them credit for fight­ing lim­its their chances for pro­mo­tion and the op­por­tu­nity to learn new skills. The com­bat rules fool no one, least of all th­ese plain­tiffs. Women are at war.

The Pen­tagon has no one else to blame but it­self for the law­suit. Sec­re­tary Leon Panetta, the named de­fen­dant, will now have to an­swer their claims.

De­fen­dants have a ten­dency to miss the big pic­ture while un­der le­gal as­sault; he might opt to fight this on pro­ce­dural and con­sti­tu­tional grounds. But there is only one way for the Pen­tagon to ac­tu­ally win this war, a war of their own mak­ing against the women who con­sti­tute 14 per­cent of the 1.4 mil­lion ac­tive mil­i­tary per­son­nel, in­clud­ing 280,000 women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The De­fense De­part­ment can fi­nally end the ex­clu­sion rules and make the law­suit moot.

In 1994, the Pen­tagon adopted the rules that ex­ist to­day. This means women are barred from the in­fantry, ar­mored di­vi­sions and spe­cial op­er­a­tions.

Be­cause of women’s roles in the post-9/11 wars, the Pen­tagon budged a lit­tle ear­lier this year when it opened a hand­ful of new po­si­tions to women. In do­ing so, it ac­tu­ally ig­nored rec­om­men­da­tions by an ex­ter­nal re­view com­mit­tee to drop the ban al­to­gether.

The com­bat ex­clu­sion rules are an op­er­a­tional dis­as­ter. Be­cause of the ban, women are “at­tached” to com­bat units, but not “as­signed” to them; that dis­tinc­tion is lost in the fog of war­fare, as the in­juries sus­tained by the plain­tiffs show.

To sat­isfy the ex­clu­sion rules, com­man­ders of­ten go through ridicu­lous gy­ra­tions: They “re­set” the women sol­diers by tem­po­rar­ily bring­ing them back from their mis­sions to make it look like they are in sup­port­ing roles. The rules are an­ti­quated, con­de­scend­ing and un­wor­thy of this ad­min-

Scot Le­high

Paul Krug­man

Dana Milbank

Mau­reen Dowd is­tra­tion.

Right now, meet­ings are be­ing ar­ranged by government lawyers in the Pen­tagon, the White House and the Jus­tice De­part­ment to dis­cuss how to deal with the case. There is a bat­tle within the government about the gen­der ex­clu­sion; the forces of cau­tion have won to date. If they ad­vance, the Pen­tagon will prob­a­bly fall back on two ar­gu­ments.

First, it will go af­ter the plain­tiffs’ claims that they’ve suf­fered real harms to their ca­reers. The ar­gu­ment’s a loser. The plain­tiffs are all-Amer­i­can gun-tot­ing ladies who have com­mit­ted them­selves to a life­style most of us can’t imag­ine — ex­cept that the Pen­tagon won’t ac­knowl­edge it.

Sec­ond, the de­fense lawyers will cloak the com­bat rules in a sep­a­ra­tion-of-pow­ers ar­gu­ment that courts shouldn’t mess with the warriors. It has some merit, but would still re­quire Panetta to show that the gen­der ex­clu­sion sat­is­fies an “im­por­tant” gov­ern­men­tal in­ter­est.

And that would prob­a­bly oblige Panetta to fall back on out­moded no­tions that plac­ing women in the ranks un­der­mines troop readi­ness and co­he­sion. It’s the kind of op­er­a­tional ar­gu­ment that non-mil­i­tary lawyers will hear, and nod, and then — once the gen­er­als are out of the room — say, “Can you be­lieve th­ese guys want us to ar­gue this?”

The Pen­tagon is end­ing two wars while fac­ing a bud­get crunch. But bring­ing gen­der equal­ity to com­bat is not a big-ticket item.

And change is never a lin­ear nar­ra­tive. If his­tory is any in­di­ca­tion, many pi­o­neer­ing women won’t meet the phys­i­cal re­quire­ments or will choose to drop out, as cadet Shan­non Faulkner did in 1995 af­ter the Supreme Court forced The Ci­tadel to end its all-male tra­di­tion. But The Ci­tadel is now 10 per­cent women. For the Pen­tagon, work­ing through an in­evitable change on its own terms is far prefer­able to go­ing to trial — and, quite pos­si­bly, los­ing.

The Pen­tagon should have rules that re­flect the so­ci­ety it de­fends — a so­ci­ety that has al­ready aban­doned gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion as pub­lic pol­icy.

Let it go.

Gail Collins

John Young

Leonard Pitts

Le­high will re­turn.

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