But strong words do not equal strong action. President Obama seems reluctant to actually challenge the military chain of command that too often leaves criminals in place. Two weeks ago, he assembled the top Pentagon brass at the White House to address what he called “shameful and disgraceful” actions in the military. But even at that meeting, while he denounced the criminals, he also went out of his way to give the benefit of the doubt to the system that enables them.
“I’m not sure we’ve incentivized some of our top people to understand this is as core to our mission as anything else,” he said. “And we’ve got to reward them, not think of this as a sideline for anything else that they do, but incentivize ambitious folks in the ranks to make sure that they understand this is important.”
Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editor and publisher of the Nation magazine, vanden Heuvel writes a weekly column for The Post.
Really? The problem is that military officials — the defenders of our nation — didn’t know it was important to punish thousands of sexual criminals? The chain of command has failed on this issue. When thousands of servicemen and women are sexually assaulted every year, that is a failure. When one in five of all active-duty female soldiers are sexually assaulted, that is a failure. When military sexual assault is on the rise, that is a failure. It’s a record of incompetence at best, and outright complicity at worst. And there is no reason to protect the system that made this record possible.
The Gillibrand/Boxer bill has 16 additional co-sponsors, and a congressional hearing is scheduled for June 4. Both the president and the Pentagon are paying attention. After nearly a decade of Boxer and others fighting sexual assault in the military, we’ve seen this much progress because a critical mass of female lawmakers, including five Democratic women on the Senate Armed Services Committee, have given this issue the urgency and attention it deserves.
But they can’t make change alone. The bill still faces an uphill battle against opponents like Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who fear upsetting the Pentagon.
This is bigger than many of the phony scandals Washington is obsessed with. Our troops deserve a Congress — and a commander in chief — brave enough to really stand by them.
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