Cohen has pushed for military codes to be brought closer to civilian standards on adultery after two high-profile cases last year -- those of Capt. Kelly Flynn and Gen. Joseph Ralston -- raised questions of a double standard. But to avoid a bruising battle, Cohen is more likely to seek a compromise: "In the end, the Defense Secretary will probably set a minimum standard that functions as a floor rather than as a ceiling," says Thompson. "In that scenario the Marines would still have the leeway to apply a higher standard." After all, they just wouldn't be Marines if they were judged by the same criteria as civilians.
It's not easy persuading an organization whose motto means "Always Faithful" to lighten up on adultery. Indeed, Defense Secretary William Cohen's attempts to standardize the military's response to adultery in the ranks may have set him on a collision course with the Marines. "The Marines think of themselves as bound by a higher code, while Cohen wants uniformity, so there's bound to be conflict," says TIME Pentagon Correspondent Mark Thompson. "But defense secretaries have learned that you don't want to tangle with the Marines if you can avoid it -- they wield a lot of political power."