Time To Repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell
Posted on May 17, 2009
Filed Under Uncategorized
During his campaign for the White House, President Obama pledged that he would push to repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT) — the military’s policy that bars gay men and women from serving openly. Since taking office, however, Obama and other officials serving in his administration have pushed the issue to the back burner. When asked about addressing DADT in March, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, “I feel like we’ve got a lot on our plates right now and let’s push that one down the road a little bit.” Ret. Gen. Jim Jones, Obama’s national security adviser, told the President recently “not to add another controversy to his already-full plate.” On ABC’s This Week, host George Stephanopolous asked Jones if the policy would be overturned. “I don’t know,” he replied. In fact, the White House website recently watered down language on repealing the policy, replacing the administration’s commitment to “repealing” DADT with a commitment to simply “changing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in a sensible way.” (The more definitive “repeal” language has since been reinserted.) At the same time, Obama has indicated that he remains committed to repealing the policy. Sandy Tsao, an Army officer who told her superiors last January that she is gay, wrote to Obama urging him to act on repealing DADT. Last week, Obama personally responded to Tsao, writing, “I committed to changing our current policy. Although it will take some time to complete. … I intend to fulfill my commitment!”
DADT STILL CLAIMING CASUALTIES: DADT continues to weaken our nation’s military. Last week, the Army sent National Guard Lt. Daniel Choi — a West Point graduate who served in Iraq and is fluent in Arabic — a letter informing him that he is no longer welcome in the U.S. military because he is gay. The Army said it was dismissing Choi for “moral or professional dereliction,” specifically for admitting “publicly that you are a homosexual, which constitutes homosexual conduct. Your actions negatively affected the good order and discipline of the New York Army National Guard.” Choi is one of more than 13,000 U.S. military personnel to be discharged because of DADT. This number includes those with special skills deemed “mission critical,” such as pilots, combat engineers, and linguists like Choi. The Government Accountability Office found in 2005 that the cost of discharging and replacing servicemembers fired because of their sexual orientation during the policy’s first 10 years totaled at least $190.5 million — roughly $20,000 per discharged service member. While DADT cannot be repealed without congressional action, University of California associate professor Aaron Belkin notes that as president, Obama has the authority to suspend enforcement of the policy. Though it is unclear whether Obama will take this route (especially based on Jones’s advice), Choi said on MSNBC last week that he plans to “fully fight” his dismissal “tooth and nail.” “I believe that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is wrong, and what we really need to be encouraging soldiers to do is to don’t lie, don’t hide, don’t discriminate, and don’t weaken the military. That’s what we need to be promoting,” he said.
REPEAL DADT: Supporters of the discriminatory DADT often argue that repealing it would weaken the military (despite the fact that Arabic-linguists who are in short supply have been discharged because of it) and fragment unit cohesion. However, a bipartisan study commissioned by the Palm Center at the University of California last year found that “the presence of gays in the military is unlikely to undermine the ability to fight and win.” Choi said that “the biggest thing” he is “angry about” is that the Army claims that his unit suffered “good order and discipline” because he is gay. “That’s a big insult to my unit,” he said. After he came out as gay and before he was discharged, Choi said that “so many people came up to me, my peers, my subordinates, people that outranked me, folks that have been in the Army — and this is an infantry unit, infantry men that — coming up to me and saying, ‘Hey, sir, hey, Lieutenant Choi, we know, and we don’t care. What we care about is that you can contribute to the team.’” Indeed, a December 2006 survey of servicemembers who had served in Iraq or Afghanistan found that 73 percent of those polled were “comfortable with lesbians and gays.” Moreover, the American public doesn’t care either. According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, nearly two-thirds disagreed with the argument that “allowing openly gay men and women to serve in the military would be divisive for the troops and hurt their ability to fight effectively.” Ret. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Hugh Aitken, who participated in the Palm Center’s study, has criticized Obama’s plans to allow the Pentagon to review the policy before deciding to act on any repeal. “There’s been enough studying throughout the years,” he said. “Creating a new study will not change the facts.”
RIGHT WING STILL OPPOSES A REPEAL: The ultra-conservative Center for Military Readiness (CMR), a group that opposes women and gays serving in combat, is leading an effort against repealing DADT and even trying to block gays from serving in the military altogether. The group’s president, Elaine Donnelly, told Congress last year that having gays serve in the military “sexualizes the atmosphere” because they “engage in passive aggressive behavior.” CMR also tries to muddy the waters with “gay horror stories” from the military, despite having acknowledged that such stories are “very difficult to find.” Prominent members of Congress continue to obstruct as well. When asked about DADT last Sunday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) offered his support for it. “Right now the military is functioning extremely well in very difficult conditions,” he said, adding that “the policy has been working and I think it’s been working well.” Other members of Congress, such as Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) and Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), disagree. Sestak, himself a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral, said of DADT recently on MSNBC, “We have to correct this. It’s just not right.” “I can remember being out there in command, and someone would come up to you and start to tell you — and you just want to say, no, I don’t want to lose you, you’re too good,” Sestak said.
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