Being Right: Unintended Consequences



Last June a USA Today/Gallup poll showed that 69 percent of Americans were in favor of repealing the ban on openly gay men and women in the military, or more commonly known as the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy, a compromised piece of legislation passed by a Democratic controlled Congress and signed into effect by President Clinton in 1993.

Recently, in the wake of President Obama’s desire to end the policy as espoused during his State of the Union Address, popular opinion paired with an intriguing bedfellow in the form of top military brass, namely Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Messrs. Mullen and Gates backed the President and a majority of Americans when they testified in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee last week.

A candid Adm. Mullen opined, “No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.” It is unfortunate and unfair that we have to amount to such a measure, but the question of whether or not we should repeal DADT should come down to one of national security and what our military personnel in the field feel.

As Mackubin Thomas Owens stressed in “The Case Against Gays in the Military” in last week’s Wall Street Journal, “[T]here are many foolish reasons to exclude homosexuals from serving in the armed services. One is simple antihomosexual bigotry… The reason for excluding open homosexuals from the military has nothing to do with equal rights or freedom of expression. The primary consideration must be military effectiveness.”

Popular opinion does not always hold the keys to prosperity – in this case, effectiveness. The repeal of DADT, while a strong moral one at that, is not so clear cut when we dig deeper. There are legitimate questions that arise and good and bad arguments to be had on both sides of the fence. The weakest arguments, such as the anti-DADTer excessive moral preening (DADT is no different than an earlier military policy of racial segregation) and the pro-DADTer claims that sexual inclinations of gays will undermine military decisions, have no place in this debate.

Both sides elicit the fact that our military needs every talented American it can get, and this can only be done by keeping or banning the policy, depending on whom you ask. Should we repeal DADT, some military personnel will discharge in protest or for the fact that they simply feel uncomfortable. But the numbers of such a scenario are not what the pro-DADT alarmists might predict. Why? Because, minus a small, unidentified minority, most servicemen and women probably already have a feeling for who is gay and who is not. Ironically, the void left could conceivably be filled by newly enlisted gays.

For the anti-DADT contingent, it is sufficed to say that most of the political pressure on this subject comes from those least likely to serve in the armed forces. Furthermore, in the event of repeal, anti-DADTers must not take it upon themselves to block a two-way street. Should gay rights activists push for class-action lawsuits against the armed forces even when a gay troop is justly discharged only subjects the military to unwarranted scrutiny.

There are two points that no pro-DADTer can deny any anti-DADTer. First, gays have served our great nation every bit as admirably as non-gays. They have died in the battlefields protecting America, as heroes. Second, notable U.S. allies such as Australia, Britain, Canada and Israel all allow openly gay individuals to serve. Israel, while a conscription-based military, still remains one of the most effective forces since it lifted restrictions on gay soldiers in 1993.

Some of Mr. Obama’s most ardent supporters are gay individuals, angry over Prop 8 and other, fresh setbacks. They are pushing for the President to act quickly on his promise. The president can issue an executive order repealing the policy like President Truman when he desegregated the military or President Eisenhower when he sent troops to Little Rock – although these orders can be reversed by Congress or the courts. But such a move would be hasty and unwise as many Congressional Republicans have rightly pointed out.

Messrs. Mullen and Gates have already stated they will make “strong steps” to allow gays to more easily serve in our military (i.e. easing implementation of DADT restrictions) and plan to create a “high-level commission to review the many practical questions that will arise if Congress repeals the ban.” A sweeping policy overhaul such as the repeal of DADT should never be done while we are still engaged in delicate conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. A change of policy, should it take place, must be timed right. As a leaked memo from a legal adviser to Adm. Mullen surmised, “[N]ow is not the time to life the ban because of the importance of winning the wars we are in.” Major changes in any large bureaucracy take time and must be carefully instituted so as not to cause more problems than we already face half way around the world. It’s not as simple as flipping a switch.