The future of "Don't Ask Don't Tell"

Reply Fri 6 Mar, 2009 10:15 am
March 05, 2009
The future of "Don't Ask Don't Tell"
Posted by Nancy Youssef - McClatchy Blog in Afghanistan

This week, Rep. Ellen Tauscher, Democrat of California, proposed repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” ban on gays serving openly in the military. This is not the first such legislation to appear on Capitol Hill but it is the first under this administration. I am not an expert on this matter but from what I can tell there are two debates happening in Washington, one amongst politicians and the other with military circles. The pols, particularly those who support repealing the policy, are asking whether that position is politically viable. And the military is asking whether the armed forces are ready to embrace an open policy.

For whatever it's worth, in my cursory polling of the military, I have found that younger servicemen are quicker to embrace the repeal than the older superiors.

But where that leaves the future of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is a little unclear. In response to the proposed bill, White House spokesman Thomas Vietor said the following: “The President supports changing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. As part of a long standing pledge, he has also begun consulting closely with Secretary Gates and Chairman Mullen so that this change is done in a sensible way that strengthens our armed forces and our national security.”

And yet Geoff Morrell, Pentagon spokesman, said at a briefing today that he is not aware of any formal review: Here is the transcript of his comments:

Question: Earlier in the week, the White House, in responding to some queries about this new legislation to lift the ban on gays serving in the military said that the White House has been consulting with the secretary and the Joint Chiefs. Can you shed any more light on what that means? Has there been any formal direction to study the issue? Basically, it was a very general statement -- just -- (inaudible). What does that mean?

Morrell: Yeah. I -- you know, Brian, I don't have anything particularly new for you on that. I noticed that the White House had a statement to that effect. I think I'd refer you to them in terms of what took place in that meeting. I wouldn't want to begin to speak for what the president did or did not ask of the secretary or the chairman. So I'm sorry, I just have to really refer you to the White House for additional questions on that.

Question: Just to follow on that, is the DoD conducting any review of the issue? Or have they been tasked to do so?

Morrell: Right now, Don't Ask, Don't Tell remains the law of the land, and we are following it. I am not aware of any internal review that's under way in this department. That's not to say that one won't be asked of us, or -- but I don't believe that there is one currently under way.

So is change coming? I am not sure. But in his book, Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America, Nathaniel Frank writes that in other countries, such a change usually comes because military commanders are ordered by their civilian leadership to do so, not from the military institutions themselves. If that indeed holds up, we will have to turn to the White House to settle the debate.

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