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Right Turn
Posted at 09:30 AM ET, 02/15/2012

Was Santorum shooting from the hip on women in combat?

Newt Gingrich hasn’t got much right lately, but a broken clock is right twice a day and this is Gingrich’s time. Well, sort of. He took on Rick Santorum’s comment about keeping women out of combat because of “emotions”:

Gingrich fired back at Santorum, calling his credentials to be commander in chief into question during a press availability at the Tulare World Ag expo during his four-day swing in California.
“We should be very proud of the men and women who put on the American uniform and risk their lives in order to protect this country,” Gingrich told reporters. “I just think that Rick completely misunderstands the nature of modern warfare by his comments.”
The former House speaker, who during many campaign speeches refers to himself as a former “Army brat,” said he believes no matter where you are wearing the U.S. military uniform, you are in combat – something Santorum should understand.
“Whatever your technical assignment, whether you’re a truck driver or you’re working with logistics, or you’re a military person, you’re in combat. And I think that we have to understand that from day one,” Gingrich said.

In fact, the military does make a distinction between combat and noncombat, but the military has also recognized the reality of the war we are in. Women, in fact, migrated into dangerous roles in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they have served with distinction

In June the New York Times reported:

Servicewomen have died in all of America’s wars, but usually they were support personnel such as nurses and clerks. In Afghanistan, most women who have died were killed in combat situations, as Specialist Snyder was, despite the military’s official prohibition on women in combat jobs.
The same has been true in Iraq, where 111 female soldiers have died, according to data compiled by icasualties.org, an independent organization that tracks military fatalities. In both wars, 60 percent of those deaths are classified by the military as due to hostile acts.
Wars with no clear front lines have put women in harm’s way more than ever before, blurring the boundaries between combat jobs that are outlawed for women, and support jobs that are often as dangerous and in some cases even more so.

Contrary to Santorum’s assumptions about “emotions,” both men and women seems to be working together professionally on the front lines. Indeed, Santorum’s criticism of women in combat flies in the face of military officials’ recommendations.

In October of last year, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno had this to say on the topic: “This is about managing talent. We have incredibly talented females who should be in those positions. We have work to do within the [Defense Department] to get them to recognize and change. We did not get there at this time in this report, and I’m focused on this and I will spend some time on it.” The recently announced report recommending a small incremental increase in the number of designated combat positions for women is the result of the review that Odierno and other top brass ordered.

So while the military moves slowly to make an official change in policy, the reality is that women out of necessity are moving into roles that place them in great danger. (“In actual practice, however, women already serve in many of those jobs, but as temporary “attachments” to battalions — a bureaucratic sidestep that has been necessary with the high demand for troops during the last decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon’s new rules largely formalize existing arrangements and in many ways are simply catching up with realities on the battlefield.”)

Gingrich may not have it completely accurate, but he’s right that there is a gap in Santorum’s understanding. Santorum seems to harbor some fixed ideas about “emotions” and interactions between men and women in the military that don’t have any basis in fact.

Santorum left the Senate in 2006, does not have the benefit of briefings from the sort of experienced national security professionals who have assisted other candidates, and, as far as I have been able to determine, hasn’t been to Iraq or Afghanistan lately. His foreign policy instincts are strong, and Santorum was prescient on the Iranian threat, but he’s now going to be held to a different standard. He’s expected to speak not from whatever pop psychology notions he carries around, but with facts grounded in current events. He should bring in some top-flight advisers, take a trip to Afghanistan (and elsewhere) and demonstrate that he’s fully prepared to lead as commander in chief.

By  |  09:30 AM ET, 02/15/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign

 
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