The Politics of Repeal

Changes in DADT enforcement may signal change is coming for gay soldiers, but most feel more effort is needed from White House to end the policy

by Chris Geidner
Published on March 26, 2010, 1:05pm | Comments

Calling the changes to the ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' military policy a ''great improvement'' that supportive members of Congress had ''been urging them to do,'' Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) quickly framed that movement in terms of the lack of movement on the issue from the White House, saying on Thursday evening, ''They're ducking.''

The mix of cautious optimism and a push for further movement from President Barack Obama was not that unusual of a response to the announcement by Defense Secretary Robert Gates that military enforcement of the ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' would be handled in a ''fairer and more appropriate manner.''

The Pentagon's changes, from a factual standpoint, were the first actual limiting changes to the policy – reporters were handed the actual changes to Defense Department Instruction Numbers 1332.30 and 1332.14 – since it went into effect in 1994.

Alexander Nicholson, the executive director of Servicemembers United, said in a statement, ''The changes announced today by Secretary Gates constitute a solid first step to help reign in many of the abuses of the policy that have become common practice over the past seventeen years.''

And as Nathaniel Frank, a researcher at the Palm Center who has written extensively on DADT, noted at The Huffington Post, ''The military would not have agreed to soften the gay ban (just as it did not agree in 1993) if its leadership truly believed it would harm readiness – and Secretary Gates said today that the new regulations were created with the 'unanimous' support of all the Service Chiefs, even though some have been grumbling about repeal.''

Though true, and as Nathaniel Frank and others have noted, the Pentagon actions could have gone further. As Defense Department General Counsel Jeh Johnson noted, hearsay is still admissible in the administrative discharge proceedings, although he maintains that the new policies discourage the use of such testimony.

In response to a question from a Metro Weekly reporter, Secretary Gates said that there was discussion of whether the new policy would require a two-star general or a one-star general to initiate an investigation or separation proceedings. The determination to go with the lower rank, though a much more heightened standard than in place previously, shows that the Pentagon did consider going further with these changes.

Regardless, though, advocates of repeal saw the changes as only a first step – or less. Appearing on The Rachel Maddow Show on Thursday evening, Lt. Dan Choi – arrested on Mar. 18 for chaining himself to the fence in front of the White House – said, ''I think it misses the point entirely.

''What's inhumane, what's absolutely intolerable about 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' itself is that it enforces closetedness,'' Choi told Maddow. ''And it enforces shame and hiding and lying and deception. And that is not in keeping with any of the Army's values, or any of the military's values, or American values.''

Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA), said in a more measured statement, ''While I am encouraged by the Pentagon's announcement, I remain committed to working toward full legislative repeal of this law, which hurts our national security and military readiness.''

Secretary Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared to have another plan. On Thursday, Gates said he ''do[es] not recommend a change in the law before we have completed the study,'' a statement echoed by Mullen.

Rep. Frank said, simply, ''I'm disappointed in that, and I disagree with that. And I think we should go ahead and do it.''

Rudy deLeon, the senior vice president for national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress, voiced his disagreement with Gates's comments in a statement pushing for the Senate repeal bill introduced by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.).

''The current Senate bill calling for DADT repeal actually requires the military to develop a clear implementation strategy,'' he said. ''As the CAP studies [regarding DADT repeal implementation] have shown, linking congressional repeal with Pentagon implementation makes strong strategic sense because it will ensure that the transition to open service will be smooth, orderly, and fully consistent with the rigors of military service and unit readiness.''

Asked if repeal efforts would succeed this year, Rep. Frank said, ''I hope so. I think the President's got to step up more. I've talked to both Sen. [Carl] Levin [D-Mich.] and Rep. Murphy, and we're still trying to do that. It's harder with the administration.''

Following up on what he previously referred to as the ''ambiguous'' nature of the White House's support for a repeal this year, Rep. Frank said, ''They're ducking. Basically, yeah, they're not being supportive, and they're letting Gates be the spokesman, which is a great mistake.''

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, echoed Frank's comments, saying in a statement, ''With health insurance reform passed and a successful conclusion reached, now is the time for more visible and aggressive leadership from the White House to push for a vote this year.''

The White House did not respond to a request for specific comment about a statement made by Gates that his ''impression is that the president is very comfortable'' with the course set forth by the Pentagon.

A White House spokesman said via e-mail, ''The President has been clear in his call for Congress to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. He appreciates the hard work by Secretary Gates to make the implementation of the current law fairer and more appropriate, as well as the broader efforts to prepare for implementation of any Congressional repeal."

Many advocates have been pushing the White House to include language to repeal DADT in its Defense Department budget request this spring.