WASHINGTON -- On any given day, one isn't likely to find common cause with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He's a dangerous, lying, Holocaust-denying, Jew-hating cutthroat thug - not to put too fine a point on it.
But he was dead-on when he wondered why a once-great power such as Britain sends mothers of toddlers to fight its battles.
Mr. Ahmadinejad characterized the release of 15 British sailors and marines, including one woman, seized at sea last month, as a gift to Britain. In reality, the hostages were the West's gift to Mr. Ahmadinejad.
When a pretender to sanity like Mr. Ahmadinejad gets to lecture the West about how it treats its women, we've effectively handed him a free pass to the end zone and made the world his cheerleaders.
Not only does the Iranian president get to look magnanimous in releasing the hostages, but he also gets to look wise. And we in the West get to look humiliated, foolish and weak.
In the eyes of Iran and other Muslim nations, we're wimps. While the West puts mothers in boats with rough men, Islamic men "rescue" women and drape them in floral hijabs.
We can debate whether they're right until all our boys wear aprons, but it won't change the way we're perceived. The propaganda value Iran gained from its lone female hostage, the mother of a 3-year-old, was incalculable.
It is not fashionable these days to suggest that women don't belong in or near combat - or that children need their mothers. Yes, they need their fathers, too, but children in their tender years are dependent on their mothers in unique ways.
There's not enough space here to go into all the ways that this is true, but children (and good parents) know the difference even if some adults are too dim, brainwashed or ideologically driven to see what's obvious.
Why the West has seen it necessary to diminish motherhood so that women can pretend to be men remains a mystery to sane adults.
Women may be able to push buttons as well as men, but the door-to-door combat in Fallujah proved the irrelevance of that argument. Meanwhile, no one can look at photos of the 15 British marines and sailors and argue convincingly that the British navy is stronger for the presence of Leading Seaman Faye Turney - no matter how lovely and brave she may be.
But let's assume for the sake of argument that women, despite all evidence to the contrary, are as capable as men in any battle. If our goal is to prevail, shouldn't we also consider other ramifications of putting women in combat and/or in positions of risk? Those ramifications include women's unequal vulnerability to rape and injury, as well as cultural attitudes toward women that may enhance their exposure to punishment or, alternatively, to make them useful to our enemies.
Iran wasted no time dressing up Faye Turney in Islamic garb and parading her before television cameras. More than her fellow male captives, she was required to confess repeatedly, to apologize for trespassing in Iranian waters and to write letters of contrition.
Rape, though not a likely risk in this case, is a consistent argument against putting women in or near combat. While advocates for women in combat argue that men are also raped, there is an important difference.
Women are raped by men, which, given the inherent power differential between the sexes, raises women's rape to another level of terror.
Our military is gradually weaning men of their intuitive inclination to protect women - which, by extrapolation, means ignoring the screams of women being assaulted.
At the point when our men can stand by unfazed while American servicewomen are raped and tortured, then we will have no cause to fight any war. We will have already lost.
Kathleen Parker's syndicated column appears Mondays and Fridays in The Sun. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.