Pentagon's Perilous Pause

Gates and Mullen owe servicemembers leadership in repealing DADT, not caution

Plenty of progressives have mixed feelings about the military, particularly pacifists. But I’m not a pacifist. Nor am I a hawk.

And I’ve never been a member of the armed services. Luckily, there was no fiscal need dire enough to get me to join. I’ll also admit that while I consider myself a fervent patriot, I’m not as patriotic as those gay men and women who risk their lives in the military despite the Pentagon’s homophobia.

Growing up in an Army household gave me at least some familiarity with the military, if no affiliation. And what I feel for my country’s military is admiration.

Considering the groundbreaking nature of the American experiment, the U.S. military is a noble enterprise in the extreme. Yes, there have been crimes, but those are the exception. The rule has been that the U.S. armed forces, sworn to protect the Constitution, have done just that. In many other countries, the military have usurped their civilian counterparts’ roles. Elsewhere, they have unionized. The U.S. military has existed solely to defend the Constitution, and therefore the civilian government empowered by it. The president is the commander in chief. The Congress is charged with supplying the president with these armed forces. The military is certainly not a branch of government. It is simply its defender, and it has through the course of American history done a stellar job — even when it came to defending the Constitution from an enemy as familiar as the Confederacy.

It’s exactly because of my admiration for the military that I was so disturbed after reading the now-notorious letter signed by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asking Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) not to move legislatively on removing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” until the Pentagon completes its own review of such a change. That the Defense Department wants to figure out how to best remove the offensive law is not a problem. This is: “A critical element of this effort is the need to systematically engage our forces, their families, and the broader military community throughout this process. Our military must be afforded the opportunity to inform us of their concerns, insights, and suggestions….”

Come again?

While the military exists to protect our democracy, it’s by no means one itself. The military is a hierarchy, and for good reason. Granted, orders should not be followed blindly, but service personnel should be able to have enough confidence in their leadership that every order need not be approved by a show of hands.

Telling all the members of the armed forces that the Pentagon needs to poll the troops to figure out how to finally rid of us of this horrible law sends two messages.

First, it’s patronizing. “We know we didn’t consult you when we started issuing those stop-loss orders, but we’d really like your input about how uncomfortable you’d be if one of the women in your platoon had a girlfriend.” In other words, we will put you in the worst of harm’s way when necessary, knowing you’ve pledged to defend the Constitution with your life. But asking you to use a shower where a guy might be looking at your noodle, well, that’s a horse of a different color.

Second, and far more dangerous, is the message that this sort of consultation says about military leadership: They are uncertain.

And that’s the last message anyone who had pledged to serve wants to hear. Even the ultra homophobic soldier, sailor, Marine or airman must feel a little queasy when his higher-ups come to him for advice.

The military leadership owes it to the members of the armed services to lead, not dither. This sort of debate, consultation and examination is suited to the Congress, but not to the Pentagon.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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