No narrow tailoring, thanks: Ash Carter makes his announcement, December 3. (Credit: Newscom)

 When Ash Carter stood at the podium on December 3 to reveal the most profound social change in military policy in at least a half-century, he stood alone. Absent from the defense secretary’s announcement that all ground combat jobs were to be opened to women were the uniformed service chiefs and their civilian service secretaries, and especially conspicuous by his nonattendance was General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Carter’s military counterpart.

In one respect, Carter’s solitude might seem strange. As he pointed out in his remarks, opening all jobs to women “was the recommendation of the secretary of the Army, the secretary of the Air Force, and the secretary of the Navy, as well as the chief of staff of the Army, the chief of staff of the Air Force, the chief of naval operations, and the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command.” This certainly sounds impressive, until you realize that the Air Force and the Navy had exceedingly little skin in this game. The same applied, perhaps counter-intuitively, to the Special Operations Command, which has such high physical standards for its personnel that the decision will likely have little effect on it, barring a campaign for dramatically lower entry requirements.

Continuing through the list, the service secretaries for the Army and the Navy are, by definition, civilian appointees of the Obama administration. And neither the current acting secretary of the Army, Eric Fanning, nor his recent predecessor, John McHugh, has ever spent a day in a military uniform, let alone time carrying a rifle and pack in combat—something that also applies to Carter. The secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, served two years as a naval surface warfare officer in the ’70s. These men have legal authority but zero relevant experience on this issue.

That leaves the commandant of the Marine Corps and the Army’s chief of staff. The Marines opposed the change, and the Army supported it—in other words, a 50-50 split between the leaders actually affected by the decision. General Dunford, until a few months ago the Marine commandant, also opposed it, and he is effectively senior to everyone else cited by Carter in his somewhat misleading argument from authority. It is no surprise Dunford didn’t alter his schedule to attend, and his absence would have made the presence of the others awkward.

From the narrow perspective of political self-interest, the Army leadership’s decision was the prudent one. They saw the way this decision was going to go and rolled over early. The Marines, on the other hand, have spent the last several years making themselves aggravating to the civilian defense staffers in the vanguard of the revolution. They did so by taking seriously the Pentagon’s requirement, set in 2013, that requests for exceptions to the integration of women in the armed forces be “narrowly tailored, and based on a rigorous analysis of factual data.” The Marines accordingly invested a great deal of money, time, and manpower establishing an experimental task force that included both all-male and gender-integrated units, which then had their performance measured as they accomplished a series of simulated battlefield tasks.

The results weren’t close. All-male units outperformed gender-integrated units on 93 of 134 battlefield tasks. The gender-integrated units outperformed male units on two tasks. Based on this outcome, the fact that women were injured at twice the rate of men during the course of the study, and other aspects of the multiyear review, the Marines made a “narrowly tailored” request to keep their infantry and reconnaissance fields closed to women.

Carter turned them down flat, and did not address the results of the Marine study in his announcement, though he did somewhat surreally assert that “mission effectiveness” is his most important guiding principle. He also stressed that “equal opportunity likely will not mean equal participation,” and said that both the reality and perception of any quotas must be rejected. It appears that he really believes this to be important—but it is naïve to expect that the political pressure groups that have successfully brought about this change in policy will simply declare victory and close up shop.

As ever with the left, bait-and-switch is the tactic of choice. The most appealing argument for opening ground combat jobs to women was the notion that anyone who can meet the standard should have a shot. There is something all-American about that line of reasoning, even if it fails to take into account the facts that gender-integrated units perform demonstrably worse than male units. Clearly Carter was persuaded by it.

But those most aggressively pushing this argument have also spent the last several years arguing that the military’s physical standards are often unnecessarily high. They won’t stop now. For instance, in well-publicized cases involving fire departments, the disparate success of men and women in physical evaluations has led to legal challenges in which female plaintiffs succeeded in arguing that the results were proof of gender discrimination. The military will resist this trend, but the decades are long, the public’s knowledge is limited, and the social energy is all in one direction.

Another aspect of the bait-and-switch, which didn’t take even 24 hours to reveal itself, is the fact that women will now likely be obliged to register for the draft. The White House announced it was studying such a shift, which would require the cooperation of Congress, the very day after Carter’s remarks. A lawsuit demanding women be subject to the draft enjoyed a favorable hearing before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on December 8.

This change may or may not happen soon, but after Carter’s decision, it will happen, and should a call-up go out in the future, women aged 18 to 25 will be off to the infantry (among other fields) whether they like it or not.

For the left, this represents progress, and though most Americans have treated combat gender-integration as a somewhat parochial controversy, it is anything but. The members of the academic and political vanguard who drove this shift—their writings are easy enough to retrieve; you should check out Anthony King’s The Combat Soldier, published by Oxford University Press, as a good sample of the species—tend to believe that men and women are interchangeable, that women underperform on physical evaluations not because of innate differences but because of cultural conditioning, and that, rather than being the “bands of brothers” of romantic memory, American combat units have been plagued by “hyper” or “toxic” masculinity, making them less effective than gender-integrated units will be.

This would all no doubt be news to the regiments that held Château-Thierry or took Belleau Wood or Iwo Jima or Omaha Beach or Inchon. But what did they know?

Aaron MacLean, a former Marine Corps infantry officer, is managing editor of the Washington Free Beacon.