This afternoon, in a conference call with bloggers, Defense Department General Counsel Jeh C. Johnson and Army Gen. Carter F. Ham — the co-charimen of the Pentagon’s Working Group studying the impact of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — responded to critics like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) who condemned the review for not asking servicemembers if they believed the policy should be repealed. “I think that asking the force to vote on any significant policy matter. I can’t think of a good outcome that comes out of that,” Ham said in respone to my question:
HAM: We don’t poll the force about potential military operations. We didn’t poll the army that says, you know, do you agreee with 12 or 15 month-long combat tours. So I think that this notion that a referendum is contrary to our tradition and customs and I would not like to see us travel down that path. The work that Mr. Johnson and I undertook was rather can we do this, and I think our report answers that pretty clearly.
Both men also responded to McCain’s most recent suggestion that the Service Chiefs — who Gates described as less senguine of repeal than the report co-chairs — were more qualified in assessing the impacts of repeal than leaders in Washington. McCain is quoted by the Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz this afternoon as dismissing the views of Secretary of Defense Gates and President Obama, saying “neither of which I view as a military leader.”
“We talked to military leaders on the ground. We talked to military leaders everywhere….We got a collective sense from leaders in all the services about the impact of repeal,” Johnson added, implying that that the majority did not see risk in repeal.
Significantly, Ham also attributed the lower support for repeal from Army and Marine combat forces to their lack of experience with gay soldiers:
HAM: One of the factors that causes a difference in the Army and the Marine Corps combat arms responses when compared to the overall responses is that we find in those two communities, Army and Marine Corps combat arms, — and this is probably unsurprising — that those communities have lower rates of actual experience of having served alongside a gay or lesbian servicemember. They’re all male organizations. They are the youngest communities, if you will, within the military. So you know, it’s not really surprising that they have less actual experience serving with gay and lesbian servicemembers. We did find in the survey that there is a difference between servicemembers who have and those who have not served with gay and lesbian servicemembers. And I think this may be one of the significant contributors to the differences between combat arms responses and the force overall.
Both Ham and Johnson will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee tomorrow, along with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen. The Service Chiefs will come before the Committee on Friday.