General James Conway, the Marine commandant, told reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday that his 202,000 Marines are “pretty macho” compared to the 1.2 million Americans in the other services. He might just as well have been speaking about himself and his willingness to say what he thinks. After all, the Marines are the smallest — and like to think of themselves as the most exclusive — of the nation’s military services. So they, and their leaders, exhibit a certain swagger that seems to free up their mouths a little more than those belonging to the Air Force, Army and Navy.
That was on display as Conway tried to explain why Marines seem less eager than members of the other services to abandon the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule that bars openly gay men and women from serving in the military. “We recruit a certain type of young American, pretty macho guy or gal, that is willing to go fight and perhaps die for their country,” the four-star said. “That’s about the only difference that I see between the other services.” Upending the ban, he said in a nice bit of jarhead lingo, is “pretty uniformly not endorsed as the ideal way ahead.”
If opposing President Obama’s pledge to lift the ban weren’t enough, Conway also said the commander-in-chief’s push to begin pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by next July is “probably giving our enemy sustenance.” The dictionary defines “sustenance” as a “means of sustaining life; nourishment,” which some might think trods too closely to the Constitution’s ban on giving the enemy “aid and comfort.” But that’s typical Marine talk: Conway is channeling his leathernecks when talking of DADT, and echoing the doubt many, if not most, U.S. military officers share about setting a date for beginning the U.S. drawdown from Afghanistan. If such outspokenness is bad news for the White House, the good news is that Conway wraps up his 40 years in uniform this fall.