Last night, during an appearance on The News Hour, TIME corespondent Mark Thompson reported that the results of the Pentagon’s Working Group studying Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will show mixed support for ending the policy and reiterated the military’s interest in slow-walking the repeal process:
MARGARET WARNER: Now, what is the status of the broader review? They sent out these surveys to service members, nearly half a million, then their families. That was in the early midsummer. Are those in yet?
MARK THOMPSON: Yes, I mean, it’s being collected by an outside firm. It soon will make its way throughout the Pentagon.
The sense I’m getting, talking to insiders, is this basically breaks down into thirds. A third of the body politic doesn’t care. A third opposes it, and a third is an advocate for lifting the ban…But the Marine commandant this weekend, John Conway, said 95 percent of the — James Conway said 95 percent of the Marines he has taken surveys of do not want to serve with openly gay men and women. That is a stunning figure, if that is what’s going to be in the poll. [...]
MARGARET WARNER: But, I mean, will they say, we can do it, or is there some pushback now from the service chiefs?
MARK THOMPSON: Well, no, their — Well, the sense is, No. 1, their mission is not — their mission is only how we should do it if the law changes, not should it be changed.
So, they’re going to look for the best path to undo don’t ask, don’t tell. There is some sense that the service chiefs, especially the Marines and the Army, the ground force guys, are slow-rolling this thing. They don’t want it to move out fast. They want it to take a long time.
I mean, it’s interesting. The papers filed with the courts have said, we have to train everybody before we do this. Meanwhile, you talk to the generals in Afghanistan who are saying, my lord, we have more important things to worry about. This is the last thing on our minds. So, there is some sort of disconnect there.
Meanwhile, in another sign that the government intends to defend the constitutionality of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals next year and drag out the repeal process even further (should the Senate fail to approve a bill in the lame duck session), Politico’s Josh Gerstein notes that DOD may be trying to bolster its argument by stressing that the new discharge rules do not represent any kind of moratorium of the policy. “I wouldn’t interpret that as a higher bar, a lower bar,” a defense official told reporters at yesterday’s briefing. “That is not intended to be a substantive change in the decision-making. You should not interpret that as we are going to separate more people or less people. We are going to elevate these decisions to ensure uniformity and care in the enforcement of the law. It is what it is,” the official said.
All of this, of course, is only contributing to a sense of uncertainty both inside and outside the ranks and ultimately undermines the possibility of a smooth end to the policy. As the RAND Corporation has concluded, 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. The military must “to convey a new policy that ends discrimination as simply as possible and to impose the minimum of changes on personnel,” the group found. Larry Korb also notes that, British, Canadian, Australian, and Israeli forces all dropped the ban quickly once ordered to do so by the courts without any adverse consequences. In fact, the British dropped the ban within one month after announcing that they would comply with a European Court of Human Rights decision that said that the ban on gays violated the European Convention on Human Rights.
John Aravosis reminds me that Conway’s 95% is not an official statistic: “Conway cited impromptu surveys he has conducted by a ‘show of hands’ among Marines at town hall style meetings.”