Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said he was “disappointed” “but not surprised” by the Senate’s failure to proceed to the National Defense Authorization Act and the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal amendment contained within it, and seemed to endorse Sens. Joe Lieberman’s (I-CT) and Susan Collins’ (R-ME) commitment to passing repeal as a stand-alone measure. “The fact remains, though, that there is still roughly a week left in the lame duck session, and so I would hope that the Congress would act to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ Gates said “If they are unable to do that, then as I’ve indicated in testimony and talking with you all, my greatest worry will be that then we are at the mercy of the courts and all of the lack of predictability that that entails.”
GATES: I think that the wake-up call for us, certainly for me, was the decision by the district court judge in California in October, who basically said, on a global basis, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is struck down immediately. So for all practical purposes, from that moment forward we had — the law was no longer in effect and we had done no training, no preparation. And we weren’t 100-percent sure that the Ninth Circuit would give us a stay. And so there was a two-week period there where there was an enormous amount of uncertainty as the courts went back and forth.
The proceedings of the Witt case are a concern. This is one that we have worried about because in that, as I understand it — and I’m getting into legal territory here that I may not fully understand, but my recollection is that we were faced with a situation where if the court decision stood, we would have a different set of criteria in terms of applying “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit and we would have had elsewhere in the country, so, again, the potential for extraordinary confusion.
Gates comments are telling because they pinpoint the moment at which the Secretary flipped from slow-walking the repealing process to running with it and publicly calling on the Senate to lift the ban in the lame duck. The good news is that since the Secretary’s major concern is having enough time to implement repeal, he may prove an important ally to pushing the stand alone bill through Congress and if that fails, pressuring President Obama to use his executive authority and issue some kind of stop-loss that would be more respectful of the military’s preparation concerns.
Of course, if all these efforts fall short, then the policy will probably be overturned by the courts — which, as some advocates told me, is not necessarily a bad thing, since it would prevent DOD from stretching out the implementation process.