Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell legislation soon?

So says Barney Frank: “early next year.” And if the brass is all lined up, which it appears to be, the bill is a nightmare for Republicans on the Hill.

So reports The Hill, quoting Barney Frank as saying legislation will move “early next year.”

The Hill wraps this good news in what seems to me like bassackwards political analysis:

The move would play to the liberal base of President Barack Obama’s administration, but could pose risks by introducing a controversial issue into an election year in which Democrats are wary of losing seats, particularly in the House.

That would have been true about any “stroke of the pen” option pitting the President against the Pentagon. But if by early next year the ducks are all in a row, with the proposal coming from the Secretary of Defense with the backing of the Service secretaries and the Joint Chiefs, the major risks would be on the Republican side.

The GOP base will be all in an uproar about this, but somewhere between two-thirds and three-quaters of the voters are willing to have themselves defended by people of any sexual orientation. That number will likely go up after the brass weighs in about the military costs of losing people in key MOS’s, and after Lt. Choi has a chance to testify.

That will give Republicans on the Hill a choice between enraging and demobilizing the base – or even stimulating a primary challenge – and voting against the brass on an issue where the voters and the brass agree, which would be sure to annoy centrists and independents. (Joe Lieberman is going to carry the bill in the Senate.)

Can you say “wedge issue”?

The “stroke of a pen” is not QUITE a fallacy

Obama could in fact repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in many (although not all) circumstances.

Mark is surely right to point out that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is the law, and thus more complex than when Harry Truman desegregated the military.

But I disagree with his legal analysis.  Given the massive shortage of trained linguists in the military, and the primacy that we are now placing on better intelligence work, keeping our dwindling (and never particularly large) cadre of fluent Arab speakers who already have security clearance is indeed “essential to the national security of the United States.”

This is why the “stroke of a pen” is not quite a fallacy; the President would violate the law were he to resist dismissal of a servicemember who lacked special skills — but in the case of intelligence work, this does not seem to me to be a difficult call.

So Mark: you’re on.  $100 says that DADT is still the law on Election Day 2010.

The pen-stroke fallacy

Yes, the President could suspend Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell by Executive Order: if he were willing to make a false finding to evade a valid law. Are we now in favor of abuses of Presidential power, just because one of ours is President?

Andrew Sullivan speaks for many when he writes:

One Last Thing, Mr President: If you believe it is wrong to fire people from their jobs solely because they are gay, as you said Saturday night, stop doing it.

How should he “stop doing it”?  Yes, Harry Truman integrated the services by Executive Order. But there’s a crucial difference:  segregation had been a matter of practice, never enshrined in statute.  By contrast, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is law, enacted as a compromise after Bill Clinton’s bold, well-meaning, and disastrous attempt to keep his pledge to end discrimination against gays in the military “with a stroke of my pen.”

So President Obama can “stop doing it” only if he stops obeying the law.

Yes, the President could use the same emergency powers used for “stop-loss” orders to end separations immediately. But the text of the provision granting those powers, 10 U.S.C. § 12305, reads:

The President may suspend any provision of law relating to promotion, retirement, or separation applicable to any member of the armed forces who the President determines is essential to the national security of the United States.

On any reasonable interpretation of the term “essential,” a finding that ending DADT separations is “essential to the national security of the United States” would be false,  Losing hundreds of servicemembers a year, out of an active-duty strength of just under 1.5 million, is costly to the services, and losing people in rare specialties, such as Arabists,  is especially costly, but it’s hardly devastating.  Does anyone actually believe that getting rid of DADT now rather than a year from now would change the odds of success in Afghanistan?

So the President would have to make a finding that is false-to-fact.  That would be a flagrant abuse of power. Is the Blue team suddenly in favor of abuses of Presidential power, now that one of our own holds the Presidency?

Of course, if the Pentagon requested that the President invoke “stop-loss” p0wers that would change things; the press, the Congress, and the public are all (excessively) willing to defer to the brass and the Pentagon feather-merchants when it comes to defining what is, and is not, “essential to the national security of the United States,” and the President could not reasonably be accused of abusing his powers if he did so at the request of the acknowledged experts. But equally of course, once the Pentagon was ready to make that request it would be ready to propose repeal of the underlying Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell legislation.  So all roads to success run through the Joint Chiefs and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Obama’s problem is to make the change bubble up from the services. And there’s every indication that he is working on that, and doing so successfully.  He has already made his preference clear, and defying the President (unless he leads with his chin the way Bill Clinton did) is rarely a good career move.  A paper shredding the arguments for DADT, and explicitly comparing opposition to repeal to opposition to the racial integration of the armed services by Harry Truman, won a prize awarded by the Secretary of Defense and was published in the Joint Forces Quarterly.  Lt. Dan Choi was invited to speak at West Point.

None of that would be happening except as part of a plan to reverse course on DADT.  (And of course none of it would be happening under President McCain.)

A reversal of DADT that comes up from the bottom rather than down from the top will be much harder for a future Republican President to undo. Yes, patience in the face of injustice is hard.  But that doesn’t make impatience a virtue.

The thing has to be done, and it has to be done sooner rather than later, and it has to be done right.  Doing it right is more important than doing it instantly.  And doing it right is the opposite of “throwing the gay community under the bus.”

I have $100 that says Barack Obama will sign a bill repealing DADT before the end of the current Congress.  Any takers?

Update Kevin Drum makes what I take to be the central point:  it’s useful to keep the pressure on Obama, but his caution doesn’t mean that he’s sold anyone out.  Jonathan takes my bet – no doubt he figures I need the money = and argues that the President could reasonably put an end to DADT separations for critical specialties such as linguists.  I agree; it wouldn’t satisfy the constitutionally dissatisfied, but it wouldn’t be an abuse of power and would constitute a down payment on his promise to end DADT.

No homophobes in foxholes?

Response to “Is the brass ready for gays in the military?”

A small quibble about the Foreign Policy survey question on gays in the military.

Apparently, only 22% of military officers who are field-grade or higher believe that the US should allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.

In fact, the question was “Which of the following steps do you support to increase recruiting numbers in the U.S. military?” [emphasis added]. Hard to guess what difference that condition made, but all the evidence I’ve seen suggests that DADT presents a much bigger problem for retention than for recruitment–there doesn’t seem to be a large pool of young gays who’d like to enlist, if only they were welcomed. And a highly publicized repeal might be a disincentive to a substantial number of straight potential enlistees, generational change notwithstanding. [I’m not convinced by the gedankenexperiment that finds otherwise.]

But the winds are blowing as Mark suggests:

With respect to the two attitudes mentioned above, whether service members feel comfortable around gays and lesbians and whether they believe that gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly, the data reveal important shifts. A December 2006 Zogby International survey of 545 service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan found that 73 percent are personally comfortable interacting with gays and lesbians. A March 2000 study by Major John W. Bicknell of the Naval Postgraduate School found that between 1994 and 1999, the percentage of U.S. Navy officers who “feel uncomfortable in the presence of homosexuals” decreased from 57.8 percent to 36.4 percent.29 General Wesley Clark confirmed in 2003 that the “temperature of the issue has changed over the decade. People were much more irate about this issue in the early ’90s than I found in the late ’90s, for whatever reason, younger people coming in [to the military]. It just didn’t seem to be the same emotional hot button issue by ’98, ’99, that it had been in ’92, ’93.”30 The data suggest that the majority of service members feel comfortable around gays and lesbians and that, for most of those who do

not feel comfortable, the issue has become less emotionally intense in recent years.


Polls continue to show solid support for dumping “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Looks like a good issue for Democrats to push.

That’s the latest polling on getting rid of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and letting gays and lesbians openly serve in the military. Support for gay marriage is still in a distinct minority. So it makes sense that Republicans and conservatives should want the debate to focus on gay marriage. By the same token, liberals and Democrats should want to argue about whether we ought to get rid of a silly, discriminatory rule that deprives our overstretched armed services, currently scraping the bottom of the recruiting barrel to meet quotas, of people ready, willing, and able to help defend us in a dangerous world.

Bad news and good news and bad news on DADT

Peter Pace is a bigot and a fool.
John Warner isn’t a bigot, and is a stand-up guy.
Robert Gates also isn’t a bigot, but he’s a coward and thinks you’re a fool.

Bad news: the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is a bigot, and has a tin ear.

Good news: the Ranking Republican on Senate Armed Services isn’t a bigot, and is a stand-up guy.

Bad news: the Secretary of Defense isn’t a bigot, but he is a coward, and he thinks you’re a fool. If the question is whether a bad policy should be changed, the answer “It’s our policy, and we’re sticking with it” is a non-answer.

All in this story about “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Maybe I’m misreading the polling, but I think this is a good issue for the Democrats, especially if Jim Webb is on the right side of it. There aren’t many votes for the notion that Christian religious fanatics should be allowed to weaken the country’s military capacity to fight against Islamic religious fanatics.