DADT Debate

Last week military analyst Stuart Koehl had a piece at the Weekly Standard opposing the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT). I wrote a response, and he posted a rebuttal. I recommend reading those pages before continuing here.

Koehl first makes the point that he was writing about “combat effectiveness” and I only addressed “readiness.” His point being that readiness is a black and white evaluation on paper – is the unit up on personnel and equipment, and have they completed necessary training prior to entering the fight? Combat effectiveness is only measured when the bullets start flying, and then in subjective terms. In response to this, I would simply reiterate everything I said in my initial response and replace “readiness” with “combat effectiveness.” We are both discussing personnel issues that impact morale and unit cohesion, and these are the intangibles that make readiness translate into combat effectiveness. My responses on the specifics below bear that out.

British and Israeli Experiences

Koehl continues to claim that the success of the British and Israeli militaries with gays serving openly does not translate into a combat effective American force where DADT has ended. I will address this on several fronts.

First, Koehl says that the British and Israeli armies have not experienced a sustained High Intensity Conflict (HIC) in recent decades, and that the Low Intensity Conflict (LIC) experience they have is not indicative of what their combat effectiveness would be in a HIC environment. For the uninitiated, HIC would be a conflict between two nation-states with uniformed armies, and LIC is all of the stuff going on now – counterinsurgency, peacekeeping, and the like.

Before I get to the HIC/LIC differentiation Koehl makes, it is worth noting that we know exactly what the United States would do with regard to gays serving in the military in HIC, since we saw it in World War II. Gays served honorably throughout the war (which wasn’t all HIC, plenty of partisans fighting around the world) while their comrades suspected or knew of their sexual orientation, and were then discharged at high rates afterward.

With regard to success in LIC not translating to success in HIC, I think Koehl gets it exactly backwards. From a personnel standpoint, HIC is a lot less stressful on the force than LIC. Taking on a uniformed force in a stand-up fight that is resolved relatively quickly is less of a test of combat effectiveness than a long counterinsurgency campaign against an enemy that melts back into the population. Compare the British experience in the Falklands with their involvement in Afghanistan. Compare the Israeli incursion into Gaza in Operation Cast Lead (a high-intensity phase of an otherwise low-intensity conflict) with their occupation of Lebanon. Compare the initial invasion of Iraq to the subsequent counterinsurgency.

When you are restructuring your force to provide more “dwell time” between deployments, that is a sign that you are coming close to, as Koehl puts it, “stress[ing] combat units to the breaking point.” To say that gays may serve openly without ill effect in LIC, but that we should hold off changing our policy because we may someday have World War III against China and her allies, is ignoring the fact that combat effectiveness is tested in both low- and high-intensity conflicts and more in the wars we are fighting than in the ones we could hypothetically fight.

Koehl also dismisses the British and Israeli experience due to their smaller militaries. In terms of raw numbers, they are smaller than ours, but the per-capita rates defeat this argument. Yes, the British armed forces are smaller in absolute terms, but proportionally are only about a quarter smaller than the American military (overall population of 61 million versus 307 million). With Israel, it flips the other way. A nation of 7.3 million with over 175,000 active service members (and twice that in the reserves) has a much higher per-capita ratio of service members to the total population. Dismissing them as a “commuter” force is unpersuasive as well. When you are deployed, other soldiers’ significant others may just be a photo on the wall. When your military is fighting on home field, you will see more of your comrades’ personal lives.

Women in Combat

Koehl devotes part of his original article making a parallel between keeping DADT and excluding women from combat arms positions. He says that there will always be a small percentage of women who can equal men in the physical demands of combat, and the only reason to exclude them from combat units is the undesirable influence eros will have on combat effectiveness.

Once again, I think this is completely backwards.

First, we may be excluding women from combat arms branches, but we are certainly not excluding them from combat. The lack of a front line means that all units deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan can come under sudden attack. Women are rising to the occasion. Take this combat medic who received the Silver Star for braving enemy fire to save members of her unit. Or this military policewoman who responded to an ambush by clearing two trenches and killing three insurgents in close combat. Women are serving with distinction and the units they serve in do not show reduced combat effectiveness by virtue of their presence.

Second, I think that the exclusion of women from the most physically demanding branches is appropriate and constitutional. While some women can max their physical fitness test and generally keep up with the boys, adding women to light infantry units does not make sense unless they can keep pace in the one area where women are particularly disadvantaged – moving under a heavy load. Paratrooper planning weights for combat remain around 145 lbs. Integrating women means that your battlefield calculus for foot movement is seriously impacted – can you maintain your desired rate of movement given combat load, terrain, weather, and visibility? If the answer to this is no, then integrating women in those units is a mistake. There is a serious argument that we put too much gear on the average soldier, but it’s not a problem that’s going away any time soon.

Women coming to the infantry would have to take the physical fitness test under male standards and road march without slowing down the unit. Would the military hold true to that standard if women were allowed in the combat arms? No. Is it discriminatory not to allow them in those branches? Yes. But I strongly believe that it would pass constitutional muster under the intermediate-level scrutiny used for gender-based discrimination claims.

Conclusion

Koehl admits that gays “have served in every army in every war since we began recording the history of warfare.” If that is the case, and if we can change policy without impacting American readiness – and yes, combat effectiveness – as the British and Israeli experiences show, then resistance to ending DADT seems less a matter of national security and more a political football.