Monday, July 6, 2009

Obama Administration's "Measured" Approach to Don't Ask, Don't Tell

During a recent interview with CNN, Mike Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he believes that President Obama should "move in a measured way" towards ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Mullen also said that he told Obama that before he decides to end the policy, he should consider "the impact on our people and their families at these very challenging times." Mullen, however, did not explain what he meant by "the impact" of DADT on "our people" and "their families" (and none of the possible meanings sounds good -- see below). Mullen's comments will probably add to the growing anxiety among GLBT activists concerning Obama's commitment to gay rights.

Mullen's "Measured" Stance Mirrors Position of Obama Administration
Mullen's guarded statements mirror positions that members of the Obama administration, including Obama himself, have taken. Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated that rather than moving to repeal DADT, the Obama administration was studying ways to make the policy more "humane" (e.g. declining to discharge individuals who do not voluntarily disclose their sexual orientation to military officials). Also, during the Bush administration and earlier this year, Gates said that the Department of Defense had not moved on DADT because fighting the wars did not leave enough time to address the policy.

In May 2009, White House staff edited WhiteHouse.Gov to indicate that President Obama supports repealing DADT in a "sensible way that strengthens our armed forces and our national security." Previously, the website contained a much longer statement explaining Obama's opposition to DADT. Furthermore, White House staff initially amended the language to state that Obama supported "changing" DADT. After complaints from GLBT activists, however, White House staff edited the website once again to state that Obama supports "repealing" rather than "changing" DADT.

Furthermore, during a recent meeting with GLBT rights activists at the White House, President Obama expressed his own support for a measured path:
[A]s Commander-in-Chief, in a time of war, I do have a responsibility to see that this change is administered in a practical way and a way that takes over the long term. That's why I've asked the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to develop a plan for how to thoroughly implement a repeal.
Obama comments are basically identical to the position that Mullen has espoused.

What Does Mullen Mean By "Impact on our people and their families"?
Although Mullen's comments generally echo the sentiment of the Obama administration, it is unclear how he believes repealing DADT will "impact. . .our people and their families." If Mullen is referring to military personnel, then he is probably only thinking of heterosexual personnel. It is probably safe to assume that most "family members" of gay and lesbian personnel do not support them losing their jobs and therefore favor the repeal of DADT.

But if Mullen truly believes that repealing DADT could negatively impact heterosexuals and their families, then his thinking suffers in three major ways. First, Mullen seems to hold heterosexual soldiers and their families in low esteem. If troops have the fortitude to put their lives at risk, then repealing DADT should not cause them to have a meltdown. They are already serving with closeted gays, lesbians and bisexuals. Simply "knowing" the identity of those individuals who are brave enough to come out, will not imperil servicemembers or their families.

Second, Gates seems to discount the ability of the military to enforce its own rules. The military is a highly regulated machine, and its members' lives are subject to controls that are undesirable and even illegal in civilian settings. Despite the highly regimented nature of military life, Mullen repeats the standard position by DADT supporters which contends that having openly gay, lesbian or bisexual military personnel will overwhelm heterosexuals, rendering them unable to obey rules. It is unclear why Mullen and other military officials should not trust their own enforcement mechanisms on this issue. Once DADT is repealed, military personnel who cannot accept the change should face reprimand (and possible discharge). Those are the rules.

Finally, Mullen's comments place the well being of heterosexuals and their families above the constitutional rights of gays, lesbians and bisexuals in the military. Mullen's suggestion that repealing DADT will significantly impact military personnel and (especially their families) is baseless. Even if Mullen could prove "some" impact, it is not immediately clear why the comfort of antigay heterosexuals should have priority over the Equal Protection Clause. Certainly, the concerns of these individuals' family members cannot trump the Constitution. If Obama embraces this portion of Mullen's comments, he will do serious damage to his already shaky reputation among GLBT activists.


Anonymous said...

These people all need to grow up. The policy should be "who cares?" As long as people are doing their job, their sexual orientation should be held with the same regard as religious beliefs. Nice to know on occasion, but unnecessary to the task at hand because the person chose to accept the task.

You can either perform or you can't.


Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Anonymous: I agree that sexual orientation is unrelated to performance (which should be the measure of qualifications).

Anonymous said...

Way too many qualifiers.

"Measured" approach,
more "humane" policies,
repealing DADT in a "sensible" way

These are just placating statements.

Where is "I support equal rights for the GLBT community, therefore I ordered my staff to draft a bill within 3 months."

What we have is "I support equal right for the GLBT community."

You can say you support it all you want but there is no active work to this goal on your part.

People make New Year's resolutions to exercise more but they don't mean much if you don't do them.

There is too much straddling of the line. This is offensive.


Decidere said...

Well, I'm not sure I'd jump to the critical view of Mullen's statements. Here's Mullen over a year ago responding to DADT: "“It’s a law, and we follow it,” Mullen said. Should the law change, the military will carry that out too, he said. “We are a military that is under the control of our civilian elected leaders,” he said. “It has served us well since we’ve been founded. That is a special characteristic of our country and I would never do anything to jeopardize that.”"

His father was a publicist in Hollywood for movie & TV actors:

Here 2 months ago he uses the phrase "a deliberate, measured way", talks about an objective evaluation of potential effects "if any", notes the need for an implementation plan once a law is passed revoking the current law, given the backdrop of troop forces stretched thin with operations in Iraq & Afghanistan.

"Measured" doesn't have to equal "slow", it can be a set of well thought out brisk steps.

Mullen is providng absolutely the cover he should for this: "We follow the law". The military takes orders. Mullen is trying to avoid controversy, and when asked whether a certain general was right in saying now was the time to repeal, he was careful not to agree - he doesn't want to bring in anti-gay retired generals to fight the issue in the press, but he continually notes that the president has made his intention clear. He might as well be sending up flares with confetti that says, "we're ready, change the law quick".

I also wouldn't be too quick to interpret "our people and their families" as meaning only straights. Mullen doesn't seem to be a Pollyanna, and DADT has been on his radar (gaydar? ;-) for quite some time. "People" likely includes contractors, the civilian workforce plus the enlisted and officers. "Their families" will include old families and newly united gay/lesbian families. There will be full benefits to arrange for gay and lesbian families. There will be changes in housing arrangements for officers and enlisted, and for example, when officer housing is thrown open to gays moving in next door, there should be more than a 20 second heads up, including some description of how the change will be implemented - change management. It should be approached as just another logistics issue, which includes schedules, communications plans, assessment of ramifications in different areas, and effective deployment and contingencies for associated issues. 3 million in the military (does that include the civilian force?), 180,000 contractors in Iraq alone.

Additionally, there will be issues related to gays in the military in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, conservative Muslim countries that will take this as anathema to the Koran and more proof of our ungodliness. Any potential danger needs to be evaluated, and appropriate preparations and protections taken.

Infidel753 said...

Some of Decidere's points are well taken, but the issue of Muslim "sensibilities" should not be allowed to serve as a pretext for compromising basic values.

Women serve in the military in Afghanistan and Iraq. If we had ever needed to station troops in South Africa during the apartheid era, I hope no one would have suggested requiring black soldiers to conform to apartheid laws out of respect for Afrikaner "sensibilities".

Decidere said...

Well gee, we're in Muslim countries to protect them from themselves or some such reasoning, and I guess we can force all our sensibilities upon these people, *ESPECIALLY SINCE WE HAVEN'T EVEN GOT TO THOSE NOBLE SENSIBILITIES YET*. But from the moment Americans decide they can deal with gays in the military, whatever year that might be, the rest of the world must be ready to jump and just ask how high. 16 years and we're still debating DADT, but Muslims? They'll just have to come around.

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