Even Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, no hardliner or hawk, has come out against the New York senator’s legislation. As he noted to the Senate Budget Committee this week, “I don’t personally believe that you can eliminate the command structure in the military from this process because it is the culture. It is the institution. It’s the people within the institution that have to fix the problem.”
He’s supported in that position by Sen. Carl Levin, who presented his own proposal that would keep the investigations within the chain of command.
Gillibrand and her allies don’t seem to like that idea. She doesn’t trust the people on the inside to take the problem seriously. Given the growing incidence of sexual assault, she has a point. But her solution is not the one that’s going to work, because it is a politically correct Band-aid placed on a gaping wound. A “feel-good” solution, at most.
Many people criticized the optics at the congressional hearing. Apparently, unless you have enough women on any panel, you have essentially convened a Star Chamber.
But optics and visuals shouldn’t have anything to do with the substance of the debate, which is this: depriving the military command of the ability to investigate sexual misconduct among its members will erode the authority they exert over their subordinates. This will have repercussions that transcend the important, but limited, issue of sexual assault.
That’s something we in the civilian world need to realize. Or to put it another way, we can handle that truth.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.