Andrew Sullivan, who has been relentlessly ragging on Barack Obama for having been in office eight whole months not yet having undone Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, notes some forward movement on the issue. The Joint Forces Quarterly, a journal published by the National Defense University, has published a paper criticizing DADT. Before publication, the paper won the 2009 “Secretary of Defense National Security Essay Competition,” and its publication came after the paper had been reviewed by Adm. Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
To give you some idea of the author’s slant on the topic, the paper starts with two epigraphs: one about the close association required among soldiers, the other about the unwisdom of “experiments within the Army for the solution of social problems.”
The first paragraph of the paper itself reads:
Though the epigraphs echo arguments made against homosexuals serving openly in the Armed Forces, they are the words of Senator Richard Russell of Georgia and General Omar Bradley in opposition to President Truman’s 1948 executive order to racially integrate the U.S. military.
The equation of sexual orientation with race as a form of human difference is, of course, central to the position of advocates of DADT repeal and fiercely denounced by opponents. (Similarly, proponents of same-sex marriage insist that bans on it are like anti-miscegenation laws while opponents furiously deny it.)
So before the author has even started his argument, he has already chosen his side. And that was the paper that won the Secretary’s essay contest and was published in JFQ after review by the Chairman. Anyone who can read military tea-leaves – and no one makes Colonel or Navy Captain, let alone flag or star rank, without expertise in that form of divination – can see that the Battle of DADT is over, and the mopping-up operations are ready to begin.
Some of us predicted this: not in detail, but in outline. The President, having made his own preferences clear, left it to the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and his service secretaries to make the right decision bubble up from below. Unlike Bill Clinton’s well-intentioned but ham-fisted attempt to integrate gays into the military “with a stroke of the pen,”* Obama’s approach respected the prerogatives of the brass and allowed the military as an institution to save face, while at the same time ensuring that the decision, once made, would face a minimum of internal resistance and sabotage.
Yes, the Fabian approach inflicted undeserved damage on those servicemembers who have been discharged in the meantime, while also depriving the country of their services. But to have let that short-term consideration dominate the need to make the transition to an gay-friendly military as smooth as possible would have required an insanely high discount rate. (Marc Ambinder notes that one of the victims, Arabist Lt. Daniel Choi, has been invited to teach two classes at West Point; my guess is that the eventual change of policy will be followed by a rash of reinstatements.)
Now that it’s obvious both that Obama had a strategy for getting rid of DADT and that the strategy will work, can he expect any apologies from his critics, starting with Sullivan?
No, I don’t think so, either.
I wish that Obama’s progressive critics would learn to distinguish between pressing hard for the issues they care about and attacking the character of the President when he doesn’t seem to be sufficiently supportive of those positions. This is not just a matter of accuracy and good manners, but also one of strategic calculation.
Just as the Republicans need to be reminded that the man whose character they’re trying to assassinate is the only President the country has, and that Putin and Ahmadinejad and bin Laden and Chavez will all be delighted if he fails, some progressives need to be reminded that Barack Obama is, for better or worse, the public face of the progressive movement, and that whatever damages his public standing damages the country’s chances of emerging decisively from the era of right-wing dominance that started in 1966 and (inshallah!) concluded in 2006.
Our chances of emerging with a health insurance reform bill embodying a strong public option would be much stronger if Obama’s job-performance ratings were in the 60s rather than the 50s. It really shouldn’t be hard for progressives to figure that out, and to shape their words to their political ends.
*Footnote This is not to say that Clinton could have succeeded using Obama’s tactics; public and military attitudes have shifted radically in the meantime, and it’s possible that success in 1993 was simply not in the cards. I have been told that Sam Nunn turned down Clinton’s offer of Defense because it came packaged with the requirement that Nunn back gays in the military.