Women in Combat Okay with Obama

The female college students who enthusiastically supported Barack Obama for president might not know that he wants women to register with the Selective Service at age 18, just as men do. Or that he wants the military to officially open combat positions to women.

Although the topic was drowned out by campaign rhetoric and statements on policies that college students find more congenial, his position on registration of women is clear. And Obama’s national security spokeswoman stated before the election that Obama intended to change current policies on women in combat. Women are “already” serving in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Wendy Morigi, Mr. Obama’s national security spokeswoman. If elected president, she said, Obama will “consult with military commanders to review the constraints that remain.”

In other words, he wants to eliminate gender discrimination from the armed services. No doubt president-elect Obama views both of these stances as leveling the playing field for women, an extension of the equal opportunity he wants to create for all Americans.

And maybe this is a plank that today’s 18-year-old females think is cool.

I don’t. Senator Obama’s two positions threaten women’s liberty and safety.

I can agree with the Senator, and feminists, to a point. No one should be disqualified from a position based solely on sex. However, there is at least one big problem with opening combat positions to women – currently, women do not have to meet the same physical fitness standards as men. The military’s tests for strength, speed and stamina are scaled according to age and gender. In direct combat, having women who are weaker and slower than men could be disastrous.

According to the 1992 report of a presidential commission on women in the armed forces, most women fall far below most men in meeting such standards. “In terms of physical capability, the upper five percent of women are at the level of the male median,” the report said. “The average 20-to-30 year-old woman has the same aerobic capacity as a 50 year-old man.”

Current Department of Defense restrictions on women in combat units – including tank, field artillery and Special Forces – exist for good reasons. Most women don’t have the upper-body strength to haul heavy weapons or wounded team members. Under field conditions, they lack the stamina of most men. In general, women are shorter, lighter, and slower than their male counterparts.

And the field of combat is not designed for affirmative action. The desert is not more forgiving to women than to men. Gunfire will not slow down for a woman who can’t run as fast as a man. Individuals who cannot meet the standards set for the most able soldiers will not perform as well. Holding women to lower standards than men puts them at a disadvantage on the battlefield, particularly in the offensive operations or “direct ground combat” from which they are currently barred.

But no woman (or man) exists as a generality. Many experts agree that some women have the physical strength and endurance to be combat soldiers. Women who are strong enough and fast enough, physically and mentally, for participation on the front lines shouldn’t be barred based on gender.

Department of Defense tests should be objective measures based on the requirements of the job. Women who cannot meet those standards would be safer and more effective elsewhere. And for those women who can meet objective standards, lowering the bar is merely insulting.

Opponents of women in combat insist that challenges would arise from having women in combat units, but the preponderance of military divisions have already met those challenges. The US military is still the most effective in the world.

A real step forward for women would be to remove both the current restrictions on combat and the affirmative action that endangers them on the battlefield.

Opening the door to the draft would not accomplish much for women, either. Although Obama does not explicitly favor a draft, his proposal to register women as well as men moves us further in that direction. I oppose registration for both men and women.

Conscription is bad policy for a number of reasons. Branches of the armed services, having tried it both ways, strongly prefer an all-volunteer force, according to the Army Times. Many high-ranking officers in the military explain that motivated volunteers perform much better than indifferent draftees. Moreover, morale is far better when all involved feel strongly that they are engaged in a noble and chosen pursuit than when they are forced to participate in an activity they would not choose.

Most importantly, the draft is involuntary servitude – regardless of gender. The very concept of conscription, or even registration with the Selective Service, is incompatible with the principle of liberty. Years ago, economist Milton Friedman famously campaigned against the draft in his Newsweek column. He argued that it was not only uneconomical but that it violates the Constitution. Requiring women to register for selective service would simply make more people susceptible to the injustice it inflicts on those who are drafted.

So, in answer to Senator Obama’s offer, I have one reply: “no deal.”