Elaine Donnelly is president of the Center for Military Readiness.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently announced the administration's intent to eliminate military women's exemptions from direct ground combat battalions. Unless Congress intervenes, a future court will impose Selective Service obligations on unsuspecting civilian women, on the same basis as men, despite findings that point to differences in women's physiology and performance capabilities. This will drive down tough training standards and weaken the military.
The power to make policy for the armed forces resides with Congress. Nevertheless, this administration announced a unilateral plan to force "significant cadres" of women into direct ground combat battalions by 2016.
Young women's exemption from Selective Service registration is directly tied to their non-eligibility for "tip of the spear" ground combat units that attack the enemy. In the 1981 decision Rostker v. Goldberg , the Supreme Court found that the only legitimate purpose justifying registering or drafting anyone is the need for "combat replacements" in a major war. The court upheld Congress's right to register men only because women were not eligible for direct ground combat assignments. Absent that exemption, a new lawsuit brought on behalf of men likely would succeed. The judicial branch of government, which is least qualified to make policy for the military, would seize policy-making power that rightly belongs with Congress and the American people.
In the short term, women would have to register at age 18 or suffer penalties for not doing so. And during a prolonged war, male and female draftees could be called to military service. This would divide the nation instead of rallying Americans in a time of true emergency.
When Secretary Panetta changed policy, he disregarded the legally mandated prior notice to Congress, which specifically requires an analysis of consequences for Selective Service registration. When a reporter asked about the issue, Panetta disdainfully admitted that he didn't know "who the hell" is running Selective Service. Panetta's apparent ignorance of the law cannot be excused.
The administration's pretense of prolonging implementation of women-in-combat plans over three years is an affront to Congress, which is being cut out of the decision. The circumvention might succeed because Pentagon-endorsed "gender diversity" recommendations will make selection and promotion of military officers at all levels contingent on support for the ground combat "gender diversity" agenda. All of this could happen without Congress having a single oversight hearing or access to research data gathered by the Marine Corps in 2012.
In a previous briefing, the Marines presented information on physiology and performance differences to the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services. They confirmed that on average, women have 20 percent lower aerobic capacity, 47 percent lower lifting strength, and 26 percent slower road marching speed. Female attrition/injury rates during entry level training are double those of men, and non-deployability occurs three times more often.
Comprehensive studies done over 30 years have shown that in a direct ground combat environment where lives and missions depend on physical strength, women do not have the equal opportunity to survive, or to help fellow soldiers survive. A Selective Service system forced to disregard these realities would "equalize" tough training standards by driving them down, weakening the culture of the only military we have.
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