President-elect shuns women-in-combat debate

November 17, 1992|By Cox News Service

WASHINGTON -- President-elect Bill Clinton is in no rush to join the battle over whether to allow American servicewomen in combat, according to one of his senior transition aides.

"In due course, obviously this is an issue that will be reviewed," Sandy Berger, his chief national security adviser, said yesterday in Little Rock, Ark. "A range of views will be solicited and looked at."

As a starting point, Ms. Berger said, the Clinton administration plans to sift through a new, 300-page final report by a Bush administration commission that split into hostile camps.

One view, backed by an 8-7 majority of the Bush commission, held that introducing women into combat air squadrons would "inevitably" subject woman fliers to mistreatment as prisoners of war, and would "disrupt the cohesion of their units, resulting in a lower quality force."

"Many experts and former POWs testified that the presence of women might cause additional morale problems for male prisoners," said the final Bush commission report, which was sent to the White House late Sunday. Though it has not been distributed, a copy was obtained yesterday by the Cox Newspapers.

The commission majority also cited the panel's survey, which found that 69 percent of existing American military pilots "believed women should not be integrated into air combat units."

But a vehement dissent, signed by Bush commission chairman Robert Herres and six other members, called for "gender-neutral standards" of assignment of aviators.

"Today, our country is again faced with the exclusion of individuals in the military, not for what they have done, but because of who and what they are," the minority wrote.

The seven minority members accused the majority of basing their judgment "on patronizing and antiquated views of women, rather than their proven abilities and combat potential."

The minority members wrote: "While we recognize the horrors that POWs are forced to suffer, we do not believe that women who are willing to accept those risks should be restricted . . . because of the protective tendency of others . . . It is time that the American public recognize that women are capable of accepting the risks associated with the opportunity to serve their country."

In a contrasting vote, the Bush commissioners recommended by an 8-7 vote that women should be allowed to serve on combat ships, except for submarines and amphibious landing vessels. One decisive factor was that shipboard women were seen as far less likely to be taken prisoner than women aviators.

But a five-member conservative bloc objected to any combat role for women. "When the whole national security is at stake," they wrote, ". . . the need to maintain a strong military must take precedence over concerns about equal opportunity."

The Bush commission did reach a 10-5 consensus that women should continue to be excluded from all positions in the infantry and other "direct land combat units."

The Bush commission was created by Congress in 1991 after Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., persuaded the House of Representatives to drop the four-decade-old ban on women combat aviators.

The commission's report was sent to the president over the weekend.

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