Before the end of May, the House of Representatives likely will take up the next National Defense Authorization Act and with it a controversial proposal to require women to register for the draft.
The author of the amendment said he expected—even hoped—it would get shot down in committee. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., drafted the measure as a kind of protest. He wanted to prod lawmakers into taking congressional action to override the Obama administration’s recent decision to remove the combat exclusion for women in the military.
“It’s our families who we represent who are affected by this, and we should give them a say,” Hunter said. “This should not be a unilateral decision made by the commander-in-chief. This should be our decision.”
Hunter quit his job the day after 9/11 and entered Marine Corps Officer Candidates School. He went on to serve two combat tours in Iraq. In 2008, he was elected to the California congressional seat previously held by his father, also named Duncan Hunter.
Hunter is passionate about maintaining the U.S. military as an elite force. But his move to force the conversation about women in combat backfired. Too many members of the House Armed Services Committee expressed their support for drafting women into combat.
“If we want equality in this country, [if] we want women to be treated precisely like men are treated … we should be willing to support a universal conscription,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said. “So, while you may be offering this as a ‘gotcha’ amendment, I would suggest that there’s great merit in recognizing that each of us have an obligation to be willing to serve our country in time of war.”
Hunter may have known that the outnumbered Democrats on the panel would vote for the amendment. But he perhaps didn’t count on several Republicans joining them. In the end, three Republicans voted with Democrats and the amendment to the Defense Authorization bill now paves the way for drafting women into combat roles.
“The fact of the matter is, we have a standards-based force now and we don’t have a standards-based selective service and I think it needs to change, so I plan on voting for it,” said Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., who has done four combat tours.
Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, said she would have advised Hunter his amendment was too big a gamble because too many lawmakers misunderstand the purpose of the military.
“The military defends civil rights, but it is not subject to civil rights law and there’s a good reason for that,” Donnelly said. “The military is there to defend the country. You don’t have labor unions in our military for good reason. It involves infringements on individual rights all the time, and it’s done for reasons of national security.”
At a recent conference of conservative activists, retired Army Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin said historically, women have not been included in the draft for two reasons. First, they were ineligible for frontline combat positions. Secondly, “it runs counter to the values of America. It runs counter to our ethos, and that is that we don’t send our women off to war against their will.”
Boykin added that even though a small percentage of women will be able to endure the rigors of combat, putting them in the front lines won’t be fair to them or the men with whom they serve.
“You have put those women at an extreme disadvantage because they have to do every single thing that any normal human being does in front of the men that they are fighting with. … The burden on the small unit leaders is incredible because now that small unit leader, instead of being focused on closing with and destroying the enemy, he’s got to be worried about how he’s going to provide some level of privacy for the women there,” Boykin said.
Although he believes the social tinkering going on in the military is making our armed forces weaker, Boykin said it’s reversible if the United States elects the right commander-in-chief. Opponents of the policy to put women into combat hope for a victory even sooner than that by shooting down Hunter’s amendment later this month on the House floor.
— by Jim Henry