- The Washington Times - Friday, May 9, 2003

President Bush yesterday deferred to the Pentagon the question of women in combat, angering conservatives who want the commander in chief to reverse the Clinton-era rule change putting females on the front lines.”I will take guidance from the United States military,” Mr. Bush said in response to a question from The Washington Times. “Our commanders will make those decisions.”“The configuration of our force and who ought to be fighting where — that’s going to be up to the generals,” he added. “That’s how we run our business here in the White House. We set the strategy and we rely upon our military to make the judgments necessary to achieve the strategy.” Elaine Donnelly, president of the conservative Center for Military Readiness, expressed disappointment that Mr. Bush declined to initiate a review of the 1994 rule change putting women into combat.”That sounds like passing the buck, and that is regrettable,” she said. “That is a punt because the generals take orders from the commander in chief.”A liberal group called Women’s Research & Education Institute (WREI) applauded the president for deferring to the generals.”I certainly am happy to hear him say that, that he wouldn’t pre-empt their thoughts on who should or shouldn’t fight because there were some people who didn’t want them fighting,” said Lory Manning, director of WREI’s Center for Women in Uniform.Miss Manning, a retired Navy pilot, said the war in Iraq proved the wisdom of putting women into combat.”We won the war and women were all over the place, doing their jobs and doing them well,” she said. “It works.”And if you tried to pull all the women out now, you’d have a huge readiness mess. The military wouldn’t be able to fight or operate.”I mean, there are about 12,000 women on Navy ships, for instance,” she added. “How would we deal with Korea if we pulled all the women off the ships?”But Mrs. Donnelly said the capture of Pfc. Jessica Lynch and two other female soldiers, one of whom was killed, proves the folly of placing women into combat situations. The three were the first female prisoners of war since President Clinton changed the rules nine years ago.”Women have not only the risk of physical abuse that men do, but on top of that, there are certain kinds of torture that are unique to women — rape, sexual assault — that have been used as weapons of war,” she said. “We need to make sure that women can serve in the military but not be subjected to unequal combat violence and indeed the risk of capture.”Although Mr. Bush did not address the issue of women in combat during the 2000 presidential campaign, he came out against coed training in the military.”The experts tell me, such as Condoleezza Rice, that we ought to have separate basic training facilities,” he told American Legion Magazine. “I think women in the military have an important and good role, but the people who study the issue tell me that the most effective training would be to have the genders separated.”Now that he is president, Mr. Bush is deferring to the Pentagon on the question of whether the sexes should be separated between combat and noncombat units.”As with all matters in the military, the president wants to hear first from the experts,” Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said. “And then if there is anything beyond this hypothetical, he might have more to say, if that even happens.”Mrs. Donnelly called that a cop-out.”The president has to show the same leadership here that he did in taking on the forces of Saddam Hussein,” she said. “I know sometimes feminist advocates seem even scarier, but I think this president could do it and he should.”

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