5 years ago
Marine Corps Commandant Conway opposes the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT). Spencer Ackerman weighs in with the point that “Conway is implicitly assuming that the interests of the Corps and the interests of gays and lesbians are two different things. But there are, in fact, gay Marines.”
Later, he makes the following observations:
It’s his right. But if he opposes repeal, it’s curious that he doesn’t evidently explain why open gay service is bad for military readiness. (I am having a hard time finding the hearing transcript, but none of the reports I’ve seen indicate that Conway offered an argument for repeal’s negative impact on core military capabilities.) The U.S. military would be unique amongst the 20-odd militaries that have embraced open gay service over the past 25 years if somehow combat readiness declined as a result. I have every confidence, thanks to the gay servicemembers I know and have been lucky enough to befriend, that what gay Marines want is to do their jobs without fear of persecution or discharge on the basis of their identity. They’ll want to send the same ribald messages to their intended hook-ups and jump-offs through social-networking sites that straight soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines get to send during downtime. And when it’s time for them to do their jobs, they’ll do their jobs. Period. Because they want to be Marines, and if they’ve made it into combat situations, they’ve earned it.
Well, the U.S. Marine Corps isn’t like 20 other militaries on earth. They are the best. But aside from false comparisons, I don’t believe that Spencer fundamentally understands where Conway is coming from. The Corps operates as a very base and basic level. It has no interest whatsoever in fomenting societal change of any sort. Its interests intersect nowhere and with no one, save that of the security of the U.S. The Marine Corps cares about no one and nothing except the Marine Corps.
The Marine Corps needs no one. They have met their recruiting goal every year, and when the mandate to increase the size of the services came down, the Corps met their goals before the Army. Large reenlistment bonuses shrank to nothing after having been implemented a few short months because the Corps became bloated with NCOs. Everyone wanted to reenlist.
For Commandant Conway to favor repeal of DADT, someone would have to explain to him why this policy change would be in the interests of the Corps, not gays or lesbians, or societal harmony, or societal change, or anything else of the sort.
In order properly to understand DADT and any change to it, we must first of all jettison personal feelings concerning the subject, but (and this is important) we must also throw the Red Herring back into the sea, or burn the straw man, or betray the canard, depending upon your choice.
Recalling what I previously said concerning DADT:
It doesn’t prevent gays from serving in the military. That’s just a mythical talking point of those who advocate its revocation. DADT only prevents open discussion or practice of such things. It is, by the way, similar to the way heterosexual relations are treated as well. Men stay away from women altogether in uniform. It isn’t practiced, it isn’t discussed, it is frowned upon – in theory. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t happen, any more than DADT would imply that gay sexual relations don’t happen. It does mean that there are certain requirements in the military that comport with good discipline, and they are enforced to the extent possible. For a branch like the Marines which has as their cornerstone removing differences and enforcing sameness (or at least relegating them to unimportant status – e.g., no one can remove language barriers), it probably will have a significant affect.
Now for my own views. I thought about this position within the context of the only exception that I can think of, namely, marriage. Men and women are allowed to be married in the military. But marriage is not performed by the Marine Corps or Army. It is performed and recognized within and by states which have laws that govern such things. Imposing homosexual marriage on a branch of the service just to say that there is no exception to the way gays and heterosexuals are treated under DADT is a false dilemma. It is imposing a foreign problem on the military – a consideration that should be irrelevant to the conversation.
In a republic such as ours, laws are changed by legislative process which usually begins with advocacy. One group or another wants a law changed or enacted, and that group presses the issue. If gays want to marry, changing DADT isn’t the way to go. Changing laws is the way to go. No gay marriage (insofar as DADT applies) in the military (similar to no gay marriage in most states) is an output (or outcome) of the debate, not an input to it.
No one has to hide or lie. Gays can still serve, but they must follow the same rules as everyone else. Don’t fraternize. Period. End of discussion.
Spencer goes on with Conway’s testimony to outline troubling statements concerning his focus on expeditionary warfare.
Other elements of Conway’s testimony have fulsome praise for the Marine Corps’ history of involvement in counterinsurgency, so I don’t wish to caricature what he’s saying. And I make no argument against the need for amphibious assault capabilities. As Conway says very well, the “littoral domain … where the land and sea meet [is]… where most of the world lives.” But if Afghanistan (a mission that will continue for years) and Iraq (a mission that the Marines have pretty much entirely concluded) are most likely models of future combat, then it raises the question whether the Corps’ “designed missions” ought to look more like the “assigned missions.” It’s a balance, and I get that, and perhaps Conway doesn’t share the view that hybrid and land-intensive close fights are the near-term future of combat. But he suggests in his testimony that he does (“The current transnational struggle against violent extremism will not end anytime soon…”) and if so, then the question about designed-mission priorities returns.
Spencer’s comments are well taken, and Conway’s focus on expeditionary warfare are well rehearsed over this site. My objections to Conway’s views have always come at a very fundamental level. When Marines were losing their legs in Now Zad and we had Battalions of Marine Infantry on board Amphibious Assault Docks, I complained loudly.
I do not now and have never advocated that the Marine Corps jettison completely their notion of littoral readiness and expeditionary warfare capabilities, but I have strongly advocated more support for the missions we have at hand.
Finally, it occurs to me that the debate is unnecessary. While Conway has famously said that the Corps is getting too heavy, his program relies on the extremely heavy Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, that behemoth that is being designed and tested because we want forcible entry capabilities – against who, I frankly don’t know.
If it is a failing state or near failing state, no one needs the capabilities of the EFV. If it is a legitimate near peer enemy or second world state, then the casualties sustained from an actual land invasion would be enormous. Giving the enemy a chance to mine a beach, build bunkers, arm its army with missiles, and deploy air power, an infantry battalion would be dead within minutes. 1000 Marines – dead, along with the sinking of an Amphibious Assault Dock and its associated EFVs.
No one has yet given me a legitimate enemy who needs to be attacked by an EFV. On the other hand, I have strongly recommended the retooling of the expeditionary concept to rely much more heavily on air power and the air-ground task force concept. It would save money, create a lighter and more mobile Marine Corps (with Amphibious Assault Docks ferrying around more helicopters rather than LCACs), and better enable the Marines to perform multiple missions. I have also recommended an entirely new generation of Marine Corps helicopters. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and forcible entry can be effected in many ways.