DADT Repeal This Year? Gates And Mullen Expected To Call For Review Of Policy

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen

Spurred by President Obama’s pledge to “work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country,” the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing this afternoon to unveil the Pentagon’s initial plans to abolish the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy (DADT). Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen are expected to announce that the Defense Department “will not take action to discharge service members whose sexual orientation is revealed by third parties or jilted partners” and establish “a special investigation into how and when to repeal the long-standing 1993 law.” “Their review is expected to look at several sensitive issues, including whether the military should extend marriage and bereavement benefits to the partners of gay soldiers,” the Hill is reporting:

But that upcoming inquiry — and, ultimately, the end of the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” ban — could take years to complete, officials have recently suggested…Their inquiry seems to be an attempt to assuage military leaders’ fears that an end to “Don’t ask, don’t tell” could jeopardize the U.S. military during war time. However, activists alike fear an actual repeal may still be years away. The delay seems to be the result of general reluctance among military leaders to end the policy, and trepidation on the part of lawmakers to broach the issue ahead of what is sure to be a tough midterm election year.

While the new standard for DADT investigations could signal “a shift in the military’s focus toward keeping gay troops, reflecting the military’s belief that they are as essential as their heterosexual peers,” the Pentagon’s slow crawl towards repealing the policy suggests that any changes to the law would be incremental — driven by the military’s resistance to change rather than military necessity or consideration.

After all, numerous studies as well as real world experience in Canada, Britain, France and Israel have already concluded that rapid integration “minimizes disruptions to unit cohesion and morale.” A 1993 Rand Corporation report found that “implementing gay service that stated that openly gay service was entirely workable, but that a successful new policy must be “decided upon and implemented as quickly as possible” to avoid anxiety and uncertainty in the field. It said it was crucial “to convey a new policy that ends discrimination as simply as possible and to impose the minimum of changes on personnel.”

Last year, a RAND survey of military personnel who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan “found that having a gay or lesbian colleague in their unit had no significant impact on their unit’s cohesion or readiness.” “Service members said the most important factors for unit cohesion and readiness were the quality of their officers, training and equipment,” not their sexual orientation. “Serving with another service member who was gay or lesbian was not a significant factor that affected unit cohesion or readiness to fight,” the study found.

As John Aravosis notes, “There is no reason the White House can’t work with the Congress to repeal the ban this year, and simply delay implementation of the repeal until next year when the “study” is done.”

Ideally, the Pentagon could conduct its review while simultaneously dismantling the policy. The committee should pressure the Pentagon to expedite the review process and can even require the reviewers to produce bimonthly progress reports. A review that’s concurrent with the repeal process would prevent the military brass from dragging its feet and meet the President’s goal of repealing DADT before the end of the year. In today’s POLITICO, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) suggested that the military should be “sensitive to any complications of this policy shift” and urged “those who favor change not to mistake deliberation for undue delay.”