Rick Santorum Shifts on Women in Combat

Santorum acknowledges that women already fight on the front lines.

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Rick Santorum stayed away from talk of "emotions" when asked about his views on women serving on the front lines during last night's GOP debate in Arizona. The former Pennsylvania senator was more deferential on the subject than he was earlier this month, and he expressed willingness to hear recommendations from experts on combat policy.

Santorum made headlines two weeks ago after a CNN interview with John King where he described his misgivings about women in combat.

"I do have concerns about women in front-line combat," he said during that interview on February 9. "I think that could be a very compromising situation, where people naturally may do things that may not be in the interest of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved."

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To clarify the day after those remarks, Santorum told the Today Show that his real concern was that male soldiers might potentially jeopardize missions by acting out of an instinct to protect females. He was subsequently grilled by members of the media who pointed out that women have already fought in hostile areas of Afghanistan and Iraq. Likewise, some were unhappy with his suggestion that the best-trained fighters the world has ever seen might succumb to "emotions" on the battlefield.

During last night's debate, Santorum again expressed his concerns, but his remarks were tempered.

"There are different roles of women in combat," he said. "They are on the front line right now. Their combat zone is, as Newt [Gingrich] said, everywhere, unfortunately, in that environment."

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He continued to say that he would hear recommendations from military commanders on the subject.

Anu Bhagwati, executive director of Service Women's Action Network and a former Marine captain, thinks that Santorum's softer rhetoric last night came as a result of being lambasted in the media for being unaware that women have been on front lines for years.

"I don't think his staff knew the facts on the ground," she says. "Now that they do, it's very hard to say these things when so many women have died and so many women have lost limbs and sacrificed overseas. It's un-American—you can't say this stuff anymore. It's politically untenable."

Bhagwati explains that while it takes years for the military to change, the research into having women in combat roles has already taken place. "These things can't be unwritten," she says. "The accomplishments of women on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan—we have 10 years of history now that can never be unwritten."

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