Justified anger over Sec. Gates' letter on don't ask don't tell
You might not know this, but all hell broke loose between the gay community and the Obama administration on Friday. In response to a letter from House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) requesting "views on the advisability of legislative action" to the repeal of don't ask don't tell before the Pentagon completes its review, Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated flatly, "I strongly oppose any legislation that seeks to change this policy prior to the completion of this vital assessment process." I should point out that Skelton's letter seems a bit of a set-up, since he's a known repeal foe.
The reaction was swift and angry. And I can't say that I blame folks on the front lines of the repeal effort. President Obama said in his State of the Union address that he wanted to get this thing done "this year." During congressional testimony in February, Gates said, "We have received our orders from the commander in chief and we are moving out accordingly." But there have been signs of late that Obama might be willing to let that self-imposed deadline slip. Most recently, there has been a push to get an Oval Office assist in putting the elimination of the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military into the Defense Department's authorization bill. The Gates letter appears to snuff that effort out.
The military is different from civilian society. As I've written before, the politics of ending don't ask don't tell requires the precision of a drill team. Activists might be angered by the slow pace of change, but there's no denying that change has already begun. Gates issued orders for a more fair implementation of this unfair and unjust law that raises the bar on who can start an investigation and on what constitutes evidence. Third-party "accusers" would have to do so under oath.
Gates appointed a high-level working group in February to thoroughly review all of the issues involved in junking the ban on gays in the military. Their deadline is December. I can understand Gates wanting to finish the Pentagon's survey of troops. While it will give him a complete view of what they are thinking on the subject, it also will give him and Congress the added political cover they'll need to follow through on what Obama and most of the country want done. Again, this is the military we're talking about, not civilian life. The last thing we would want is for the military to respond in a way that makes ending don't ask don't tell more difficult. Remember, we have don't ask don't tell in the first place because of the intense pushback from the military on President Clinton's move in 1993 to fulfill his promise to end the ban.
Don't ask don't tell is an act of Congress. Thus, it will take an act of Congress to get rid of it permanently. That's why I've been more than a little cranky about protesters focusing all of their attention on Obama and letting congressional leaders off the hook in all this. There was yet another protest in front of the White House on Sunday resulting in
12 six arrests. But the Gates letter is a stark reminder for me that pressure on the president is paramount if the repeal is to get done. Without Obama's leadership, we wouldn't be as close as we are today to reaching our goal.
| May 4, 2010; 7:22 AM ET
Categories: Capehart | Tags: Jonathan Capehart
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