Several weeks ago, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) refused to accept the findings of the Pentagon’s Working Group review of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and insisted that the Department of Defense conduct an entirely new study on “the effects on morale and battle effectiveness.” This morning, CNN’s Candy Crowley asked McCain to respond to a letter he received from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates — first obtained and published by the Wonk Room — in which Gates defended the soon-to-be released study and argued that it would provide the military sufficient information into the effect of lifting the ban on gays serving openly. “I do not believe that military policy decisions — on this or any other subject — should be made through a referendum of Servicemembers,” Gates wrote, adding, “The Chairman and I fully support the approach and the efforts of the working group, as do the Service Chiefs.”
But McCain remained undeterred. He agreed that decisions about integration should not be held hostage to the opinions of servicemembers, but then insisted that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell doesn’t pose a problem for gay soldiers or the military. He also reiterated that the Service Chiefs — three of whom publicly endorsed the study last week — are still concerned about repeal:
CROWLEY: Doesn’t [Gates] have a point?
MCCAIN: Well, I think he certainly has a point. I would also certainly say that we should remember where this all started. There was no uprising in the military, there was no problems with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. [...]
It wasn’t a problem because you didn’t have. It’s called ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ Okay? If you don’t ask somebody and they don’t tell and it’s an all volunteer force. [...] The fact is, this was a political promise made by an inexperienced President or candidate for Presidency of the United States. [...]
The fact is, that this system is working and I believe we need to assess the effect on the morale and battle effectiveness of those people, those young Marines and Army people I met…
Despite McCain’s assertions, multiple reports have detailed the litany of costs “incurred by the military, the troops — both gay and non-gay alike — and the nation as a result of DADT. Indeed, research and experience now show that the policy is a costly failure that has had the opposite of its intended effect. As DADT scholar Nathaniel Frank points out, far from protecting military readiness, the policy has harmed it, “sacrificing badly needed personnel that is replaced with less qualified talent; undermining cohesion, integrity, and trust through forced dishonesty; hurting the morale of gay troops by limiting their access to support services; wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars; invading the privacy of all service members—gay and non-gay alike—by casting a cloud of suspicion and uncertainty over the intimate lives of everyone in the armed forces; and damaging the military’s reputation which makes it harder to recruit the best and brightest America has to offer.”
McCain’s characterization of President Obama as “inexperienced” is particularly petty, however, since every Democratic president and presidential candidate since President Clinton has come out against the ban.
Clinton signaled that he regretted the 1993 policy in 1999 and 2000, and fully broke with it in 2003, acknowledging that “there is no evidence to support a ban on gays in the military.” He said that the country should move “toward recognizing the full citizenship of gay Americans” and characterized his own policy as one which “unfairly restricts the talent pool available to the military — and that diminishes our security.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) made a very similar argument on Fox News Sunday, as Sam Stein reports:
“This is a political promise made by Senator Obama when he was running for president,” said Graham, during an appearance on Fox News Sunday. “There is no groundswell of opposition to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell coming from our military. This is all politics. I don’t believe there is anywhere near the votes to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. On the Republican side, I think we will be united in the lame duck [session] and the study I would be looking for is asking military members: Should it be repealed, not how to implement it once you as a politician decide to repeal it. So I think in a lame duck setting Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is not going anywhere.”