Set Our Armed Forces Straight

To what degree George W. Bush's Pentagon will reverse eight years of social policies that have exhausted and demoralized the military remains to be seen.

There is much to be done. As commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces, Bill Clinton's most dubious innovations included nullifying, if not removing, the service's ban on homosexuals; removing barriers to women serving in combat; and promoting the performance of abortions in military hospitals. In his first week in office, Clinton announced his intention to lift the ban on open homosexuals serving in the military. That announcement created a firestorm within the services and throughout the country. By late July 1993, Clinton was forced to accept the compromise now known as “don't ask, don't tell” (DADT).

The compromise pleased no one — not the individuals practicing homosexuality and encouraged by the culture to “come out,” and not those who recognize the very real problems practicing homosexuals pose to military morale and readiness. The new president could eliminate this game of “cat and mouse” by directing that the homosexual policy be rewritten to reinstate the ability of recruiters to ask questions that were long used to screen out homosexuals.

Social conservatives fought successfully to include in the Republican Party's campaign platform the statement that “homosexuality is incompatible with military service.” In spite of this platform position, President Bush has said that he is a “DADT man” and that he intends to keep the policy.

The “don't ask, don't tell” policy may have been a factor in Bush's decision to reject former U.S. Senator Dan Coats as secretary of defense. Reportedly, Coats opposed what he called “social experimentation,” including accommodation to homosexuals and women in combat. It appears that Bush chose to avoid a fractious struggle over these issues. Donald Rumsfeld, Bush's secretary of defense, sidestepped questions about DADT at his appointment press conference by explaining that it was not an issue Bush had discussed and “certainly, the priorities are in other areas for me.”

Though it appears Bush will keep “don't ask, don't tell,” perhaps he will do a better job of implementing the policy. If he is wise, he will eliminate the highly unpopular homosexual sensitivity training.

Another policy front looks more promising. In April 1993, Les Aspin, Clinton's first secretary of defense, removed more than 250,000 combat exemptions for women. This decision turned readiness considerations on their head by ignoring such common-sense factors as privacy, physical differences between the sexes and the lack of a national consensus.

The Bush Pentagon will make few, but important changes.

Despite surveys showing that few military women wanted to serve in combat, the Clinton Pentagon continued to look for more barriers to remove. Even as his administration was winding down, Clinton aggressively pressed Congress to allow the assignment of women to submarine service. Fortunately, Congress amended the Fiscal 2001 Defense Authorization Act to prohibit women from such service.

Although the number of women in military ranks has swelled to 14%, too few stay past their first enlistment. Women are far more costly to recruit than men, and many choose to leave early due to poor motivation or family issues such as pregnancy.

The Kassebaum Commission evaluated Clinton's coed basic-training policy following a series of sexual misconduct scandals at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Unfortunately, the recommendation to separate the sexes in basic training was ignored despite clear evidence that readiness would be enhanced. But the Republican platform states: “We support the advancement of women in the military, support their exemption from ground-combat units, and call for implementation of the recommendations of the Kassebaum Commission, which unanimously recommended that coed basic training be ended.”

While President Bush's support of the ground-combat exemption is welcome, it says nothing about the thousands of exemptions already lifted. Women now serve aboard combat ships and aircraft, and many serve in positions that are, of necessity, located near the front lines. Exemptions from such duties should be reinstated. However, aside from the Republican platform, there have been no indications as yet that the new president will aggressively reverse Clinton's “feminization of the military.”

Finally, on January 23, 1993, President Clinton directed the secretary of defense to lift the abortion ban, primarily in overseas military hospitals, arguing that service-women overseas do not have safe, legal-abortion alternatives. Abortions are not performed at domestic military hospitals, based upon the assumption that women have access to private medical facilities. Fortunately, pro-life members of Congress defeated Clinton's attempts to overturn the ban.

Bush's press secretary, Ari Fleischer, said recently, “The president does not support using taxpayer funds to provide abortions.” Although Bush has not directly addressed the issue of abortions in military hospitals, it is expected that his opposition to using taxpayer funds for abortion will apply to them.

President Bush's military social policies will set the tone for the command climate by communicating a message to our troops and to their commanders about what the new commander-in-chief thinks of them and their mission. Appropriate and timely policy changes will revive trust and confidence and improve retention rates. It's high time.

Lt. Col. Robert Maginnis is vice president of national security and foreign affairs for the Family Research Council. He served on the task force that drafted the military's homosexual policy before retiring from the U.S.

Army in 1993.