Pentagon Opposition to Lifting Gay Ban May Be Melting

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Don't ask, don't tell may go the way of the dinosaur.With a volunteer military stretched to the breaking point, it defies logic to turn away and kick out gay Americans simply because they don't want to live lives of celibacy and deceit.
by Deb Price, Creators Syndicate

Listen closely, and you can hear a glacier cracking: The Pentagon is no longer frozen solid in angry opposition to lifting the ban on gays serving openly in the military.

Recently, in back-to-back days at the Senate and House Armed Services committees, the testimony of the incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, and a senior Defense Department official was remarkable for what wasn't said. Gone were the hysterical, Chicken Little-ish "the sky will fall" warnings that ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell would destroy military morale and unit cohesion.

And fact-filled questions posed by Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Susan Davis, chairwoman of the House armed services personnel subcommittee, ought to have alerted the Pentagon that change may come. With a volunteer military stretched to the breaking point, it defies logic to turn away and kick out gay Americans simply because they don't want to live lives of celibacy and deceit.

On July 31, the Republican Collins, hinting she's open to repealing DADT, framed her question during Mullen's confirmation hearing in terms of a military so "strained" that deployments are longer, convicted criminals are recruited and linguists are in short supply. A retired admiral in her state of Maine, she said, "urged me to urge you to re-examine" DADT…

     

Carefully, Mullen said he is "supportive" of DADT, but stressed that Congress makes policy: "I really think it is for the American people to come forward, really through this body, to both debate that policy and make changes, if that's appropriate. … Until it changes … both in policy and law, that's where I am."

That's similar to Defense Secretary Robert Gates' comment after Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the departing chairman of the Joint Chiefs, slammed gays as "immoral." Gates said, "As long as the (DADT) law is what it is, that's what we'll do."

A recent CNN-Opinion Research Corp. poll shows 79 percent of Americans favor allowing gays to serve openly; only 18 percent are opposed. Even Republicans now tilt, 49 percent to 42 percent, in favor of repeal, according to a June survey by Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio.

Up for re-election, Collins is being challenged by Rep. Tom Allen, a sponsor of legislation to lift the ban. What better way for Collins to appeal to middle-of-road voters than by appearing, well, middle-of-the road?

The day after Mullen's testimony, Michael Dominguez, deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, respectfully dodged Davis' question about whether Congress should reconsider DADT. He said gays "can serve honorably and feel welcomed and appreciated for their service as long as they comply with the law around conduct."

Afterward, I caught up with Davis, who wants to hold hearings on DADT. "Absolutely I think the series of hearings would build the case" for lifting the ban, she said. "I've not been impressed that (lifting) it is something that would hamper readiness, retention, recruitment."

The ban's foes may soon get heavy artillery. Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a University of California think tank, told me that "a large group of retired generals and admirals is now preparing to release a statement calling for repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Congress needs to listen closely and hear the message: It's your job, not the military's, to make policy.


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