Bush Defers to Military on Women in Combat; Critic of Policy Decries 'Passing the Buck'

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President Bush yesterday deferred to the Pentagon the question of women in combat, angering conservatives who want the commander in chief to reverse the Clinton-era rule change putting females on the front lines.

"I will take guidance from the United States military," Mr. Bush said in response to a question from The Washington Times. "Our commanders will make those decisions."

"The configuration of our force and who ought to be fighting where that's going to be up to the generals," he added. "That's how we run our business here in the White House. We set the strategy and we rely upon our military to make the judgments necessary to achieve the strategy."

Elaine Donnelly, president of the conservative Center for Military Readiness, expressed disappointment that Mr. Bush declined to initiate a review of the 1994 rule change putting women into combat.

"That sounds like passing the buck, and that is regrettable," she said. "That is a punt because the generals take orders from the commander in chief."

A liberal group called Women's Research & Education Institute (WREI) applauded the president for deferring to the generals.

"I certainly am happy to hear him say that, that he wouldn't pre-empt their thoughts on who should or shouldn't fight because there were some people who didn't want them fighting," said Lory Manning, director of WREI's Center for Women in Uniform.

Miss Manning, a retired Navy pilot, said the war in Iraq proved the wisdom of putting women into combat.

"We won the war and women were all over the place, doing their jobs and doing them well," she said. "It works.

"And if you tried to pull all the women out now, you'd have a huge readiness mess. The military wouldn't be able to fight or operate.

"I mean, there are about 12,000 women on Navy ships, for instance," she added. …