Two aspects of disappointment in Gen. Conway, the commandant of the Marine Corps.
1. His opposition to repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. 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.
2. I wonder if Conway sees counterinsurgency as a core function of the Corps. This is from his prepared testimony yesterday to the Senate Armed Services Committee:
Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have required the Marine Corps to fight as a second land army. Although we have been successful in our assigned missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, that success has come at the price of degraded readiness for our designed missions. The Marine Corps will always do whatever the Nation requires. But, as Congress has authorized and resourced, the Marine Corps is trained, organized, and equipped for our primary mission as a force in readiness.
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.