Defense Secretary Gates: A Quick Repeal Of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Is ‘A Stupid Way To Do Change’

robert-gates-at-senate-armed-servic-com-2-6-08CNN is reporting that tonight, during an interview on John King USA, Defense Secretary Robert Gates will reiterate his support for repealing the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy (DADT) and argue that lawmakers should wait for the Pentagon to complete its review before rescinding the policy. Gates has expressed a similar sentiment in a letter to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO), and his tone has drastically chilled any chance of ending the policy before the end of the year. But during tonight’s interview, he will go one step further, suggesting that a quick repeal would be “a stupid way to do change”:

“I know there’s some that are suspicious out there that this is some kind of effort to slow roll this process,” Gates says in an interview set to air Monday on CNN’s John King, USA. “But as I said in that testimony, I’ve led several huge public institutions and I’ve led change in every one of them and there’s a smart way to do change, and there’s a stupid way to do change. This one has to be done smartly.

“And I think it’s only fair as we get ready to make this change that we give our force the opportunity to tell us how they feel about it, for us to find out their concerns, for us to identify the challenges we’re going to face if Congress does change the law, and how we will go about doing that, and how we will mitigate negative consequences by what we hear from the force. And so I’ve said this is not about whether, but about how, and that continues to be our position.”

Legislating a change to the policy before the military’s review was done “would send a very negative signal to men and women in uniform that their views on this and how it should be done, don’t matter,” Gates added.

Of course the real world experiences of our allies — all whom have acted swiftly to allow gay and lesbian service members to serve openly — suggests that the opposite is true; acting quickly is “a smart way to do change.” As Larry Korb details in a new memo, “Our allies’ experiences repealing similar bans, as well as our own experience in implementing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” suggest that a drawn-out process is unnecessary and that the military’s recommendations do not need to be completed before Congress exercises its legal authority to overturn the law”:

Three of the United States’ closest allies—Israel, Canada, and the United Kingdom—have successfully removed all restrictions on gays and lesbians in their armed forces since the early 1990s. All three countries made quick, successful transitions to policies of open service…Contrary to what Gates and Mullen set forth in their letter, our allies’ experiences suggest that repeal will be a straightforward process and that a swift policy reversal sends the appropriate signal that both uniformed and civilian military leaders are on board with the decision.

Moreover, Gates’ frame for repeal presents a false choice. He’s suggesting that Congress can either repeal the policy recklessly, without consulting the military, or wait until the Pentagon reviews how best to implement a new nondiscrimination policy before proceeding. But there is a third option: delayed implementation. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has already proposed legislation that lays out a timeline for repeal and sets benchmarks for the Pentagon’s ongoing review. This kind of model places Congress and the Pentagon on two separate tracks — Congress passes legislation to repeal the policy, but the repeal isn’t fully carried out until the military is ready to act.

In fact, when “the United States adopted ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in October of 1993, the Pentagon had not yet issued “final rules on how to implement the policy until December. And DOD was still making adjustments to the implementation policy in early 1994.” In that instance, the Department of Defense had ample opportunity to issue new guidelines even after Congress acted, but by Gates’ standard, the government acted in “a stupid way.”