Wednesday, June 5, 2013

the new civil-military clash

It's curious that the sharpest disagreements between civilian officials and the U.S. military leadership in recent years have not been over policy, such as how to fight the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but over personnel or social policy. The southern-dominated services nominally accepted the integration of African-Americans in 1948, but slow-rolled the process into the 1970s. The male-only senior leadership grudgingly accepted women at the service academies in 1976 but long resisted opening most command positions to females. The Joint Chiefs of Staff willingly sided with conservative members of Congress to block openly gay people in uniform by imposing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law on the Pentagon. It took until 2010, and the astute maneuvering of Defense Secretary Gates, to get the chiefs on board with a change in policy.

Now we have a new clash over how to handle sexual assault. Members of Congress say that the evidence of impropriety is widespread and that assault victims often are punished for reporting incidents and the perpetrators get off because senior commanders value their military skills. Yesterday all of the service chiefs testified that they opposed letting special prosecutors, rather than officers in the chain of command, decide the issues. They argued that this would upset the authority commanders need for military operations.

I can see that the Chiefs' concerns might apply in some circumstances of combat, but it's hard to believe that the home-based peacetime forces would collapse under a different system. The best suggestion I saw coming out of the hearings was to see how other nations handle such matters. That's one of the ways that the Chiefs became convinced that gays could be accommodated, since the evidence from overseas was positive and the fears of commanders largely unfounded.

Unlike the situation with gays in 1993, the politics today makes military resistance a loser, so they had better figure out how to implement a heightened sensitivity to sexual assault problems.

No comments:

Post a Comment