Monday, February 1, 2010

Administration Moves (Slowly) Ahead On Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal

One of the promises President Obama made on the campaign trail and reiterated during his State of the Union Address was the repeal of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. This policy was inacted under the Clinton administration as a "compromise" between the civil rights of gays and the concerns of military brass about the effect on morale of openly homosexual soldiers, sailors and airmen serving in the armed forces. It was bad policy then, and it hasn't gotten any fresher in the intervening years.

Gays have been searching largely in vain for some hint that the Obama administration was going to deliver on any of the promises he made on the campaign trail, so his reaffirmation on DADT was no doubt welcome news. Though some have called the State of the Union mention as a sop to gays rather than a concrete promise of action (something I myself feared at the time), the possibility existed that President Obama was ready to take action.

Now, however, it looks like the naysayers may have been correct after all. While the headline of the article hopefully states, "Pentagon starts process of lifting gay ban", the body of the article projects a different tone.

The Defense Department starts the clock next week on what is expected to be a several-year process in lifting its ban on gays from serving openly in the military.

A special investigation into how the ban can be repealed without hurting the morale or readiness of the troops was expected to be announced Tuesday by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
A special investigation that sounds suspiciously like the process that led to DADT in the first place. A “several year process” belies the headline. When a politician says something is going to take several years to implement, it usually means it isn’t going to get implemented at all. The repeal of DADT is a big issue for gays, and one that is supposed to be a big issue for the President and Democrats in general. Reading this, it sounds more like it’s an issue they badly want to string out long enough that it becomes someone else’s problem.

Just as was the case in 1993, there’s no upside among the military brass to come out in favor of ending the ban. The military is a place where change is slow to manifest. Despite their image as bloodthirsty warmongers, the upper echelon of the military are largely a cautious bunch. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is an axiom held close to heart, at least as far as big ticket items like this are concerned. I have no doubt there are many officers in the upper ranks who support repeal of DADT, but there’s nothing to be gained in stating that fact publicly. It’s safer (and let’s face it, smarter) to remain silent and watchful.

If the President is serious about repealing DADT, it’s going to require a concerted effort on the part of Congress to get a bill on his desk. The military will have plenty of objections. That’s fine. There are legitimate questions about how openly gay soldiers will integrate. There will undoubtedly be incidents perpetrated by those not open to the idea. The key is for individual unit commanders to make it clear that such behavior won’t be tolerated. A Few Good Men was a only a movie, but it’s true that soldiers take their cues from their commander.

This, however, is for after a bill hits the President’s desk and that won’t happen until the dithering at the Congressional level ends. Investigations and panel discussions and the reports these things generate have their place. But if nothing new is forthcoming, nothing that wasn’t discovered in 1993, then this is just another stalling tactic on the part of the administration and Congress. A chance to talk about all the good things they’re going to do while not actually doing anything at all.

(Crossposted from Say Anything)

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