The Defense Department’s recent decision to open all military jobs — including in ground combat units — to women has sparked an interesting if largely theoretical debate about whether the Selective Service system should be extended to women. When asked about the issue, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie all said yes — which makes sense. The only reason that women were excluded in the past from the draft was because they were excluded from combat.
But Ted Cruz has a different view. He is claiming that this is an example of political correctness run amok — that it is “wrong” and “immoral” to conscript women: “I’m the father of two little girls. I love those girls with all my heart. They are capable of doing anything in their hearts’ desire, but the idea that their government would forcibly put them in the foxhole with a 220-pound psychopath trying to kill them, doesn’t make any sense at all.”
Ted Cruz should rest easy — no one is going to force his little girls into hand to hand combat with “220-pound psychopaths.” (Full disclosure: I am an unpaid foreign policy adviser to Marco Rubio and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations which Ted Cruz has denounced as a “pit of vipers.”)
No one knows, of course, how a future draft would work. The odds of having a draft at all are low because of how well the all-volunteer system has worked. The only model we have is Israel, the only country in the world that drafts women along with men. Women constitute a third of all Israeli conscripts but make up only 2.5 percent of combat soldiers – and most of those women are in light infantry units that primarily patrol the peaceful Jordanian border. Women are not allowed into elite infantry or heavy armor units, which can be expected to suffer the heaviest losses in combat.
The odds are that if the U.S. instituted a draft, women would be allowed to volunteer for slots in ground combat units but would not be required do so. In any case, unless physical standards are radically transformed, very few women will qualify for such units.
The larger issue of whether women should be in combat in general, whether as volunteers or draftees, was settled long before the recent Pentagon decision. Women are already serving in MP, intelligence, logistics, and other jobs that put them on the 360-degree front lines of modern wars. In Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly 200 women have died in combat. Each of those losses is a tragedy, but no one has suggested that the loss of these female soldiers is any more tragic than the loss of their male counterparts.
Ted Cruz should, at least, acknowledge this basic reality if he is going to make women in combat an issue.