03 April 2009

Keeping Sight of "Don't Ask Don't Tell"

I heard that Robert Gates had gone on FOX News last weekend and pushed a promised revision of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy "down the road a little bit." Here's more Gates: "The president and I feel like we've got a lot on our plates right now," and, "It continues to be the law and any change in policy would require a change in the law . . . We will follow the law, whatever it is."

By "would require a change in the law" I take it Gates means that DADT revision/repeal would necessarily involve Congress, and that's where things get hairy. CNN offers that

Obama said he would work to end the policy, but because it is dictated by federal law, he can not end it unilaterally.

Congress must pass legislation overturning the policy, which was put into place at the beginning of the Clinton administration. Former President Bill Clinton tried to overturn the "don't ask, don't tell" policy when he took office in 1993, but he was strenuously opposed by the military leadership.

That's in direct contrast to the perception that Obama can simply issue an executive order:
By executive order, however, (and I believe I'm on solid legal ground here), Obama could indeed, at the stroke of a pen, allow "gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military." And he should include that order among his reversals of Bush's "controversial security policies."

Because this is a security issue -- one that has been medievally delayed for 16 ridiculous years -- and that's precisely how Obama can frame it. It simply dwells among the utterly absurd that a person's open sexual orientation should dictate whether he or she can grip a rifle or translate Arabic in uniform.

That blogger goes on:
Furthermore, this -- not gay marriage -- is the issue on which Obama can call in his rather immense Rick Warren chit. The legal definition of marriage is a state issue, not a White House concern (other than, perhaps, one of "moral suasion"), but the proper fulfillment of Obama's national security obligations demands an end to the don't ask-don't tell nonsense that has interfered with those obligations for far too long.

Now, that's an interesting point, but moot since it appears Obama can't simply consign DADT to the dark ages at the stroke of a pen. While I rather like the notion that Obama might conscript Rick Warren to help endorse long overdue change, all that misses the point. DADT is no longer truly a culture war issue, and therefore Rick Warren is superfluous to the conversation.

When Gates told FOX News that DADT would have to wait, I was a little shocked, if not simply for the speed with which this administration has moved to reverse many of Bush 43's policies. Guantanamo, stem cells, labor, environment, the lasting scope of executive privilege, the global gag rule . . . I'm certainly missing some.

To be fair, while the commitment to end DADT was clear and decisive, it did not include a timeline. And so we should be patient, to a point. It's still the first 100 days, after all. If this change happens in 2009, that'd probably be enough. Not for the men and women our strapped military continues to lose as a result of bad policy, but there is a reasonable expectation for how quickly things can be finessed through Congress. And Republicans have already demonstrated their determined commitment to pure obstructionism.

Obama is almost certainly concerned to avoid Bill Clinton's 1993 mistakes on this, and will move with it when his team can definitely arm him with an upper hand. All the same, we're talking about much-needed translators, engineers, intelligence specialists, and health care providers in addition to general infantry. It's cavalier and self-defeating to believe we can continue to put such people out of work.

Remember also that Obama campaigned on being able to do more than one thing at a time. And to detractors who say he's trying to do too much, he more or less smiles and keeps on multitasking. This is why we elected him, remember? With all this in mind, and then some, Matt Yglesias calls the full plate excuse weak sauce. And I agree. As Steve Benen put it:
Do we want to discharge capable U.S. servicemen and women in the midst of two wars, based on nothing but their sexual orientation, or is military readiness a higher priority than some misguided culture war?
The gay community and ousted military are well organized on this one, but it's in all of our interests to keep an eye and to keep pressure on the administration to tackle this issue soon. I know the Joint Chiefs are busy, but maybe now that Congress has passed the budget we can get the key military policy makers together with our elected officials to shore up this crucial piece of national security policy.