Yesterday, a procedural vote on the defense spending bill containing the repeal of the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" (DADT) policy came just three votes shy of the 60 votes needed to bring the bill to the floor for debate. This minority group of senators blocked the important defense bill because of DADT repeal, which is supported by the majority of the country, the military and top bipartisan and nonpartisan military experts. The current DADT policy harms America's national security by depriving the military of crucial skills, creating unneeded financial strains and, perhaps most importantly, by violating the core principles that the military's success are based on: integrity and discipline. This is not a sustainable policy. A legislative pathway towards repeal is still preferred to ensure an orderly implementation that the Pentagon leadership has been advocating for. However, there remain a number of pathways for repeal, and it is crucial that all tools be considered in order to end this harmful policy.
This week Capitol Hill, the White House and national media have been largely focused on two national security issues: ratification of the New START treaty and repeal of the Pentagon's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy. START, which has the broad support of a wide range of national security experts, is awaiting ratification in the Senate. Meanwhile, the Pentagon released a report this week that surveyed military personnel about on the effects of repealing DADT, finding that "the risk of repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell to overall military effectiveness is low." Throughout the week, bipartisan military and national security experts as well as public polls continue to affirm the strong support for both ratification of the New START treaty and repeal of DADT.
Tomorrow Congressional votes are expected on the repeal of the controversial "don't ask don't tell" policy that prevents gays and lesbians from openly serving in the U.S. military. This occurs against a backdrop of widespread support for military service of gays and lesbians -- both within the military and from the American people. Military leaders at the highest level have spoken out on the subject. America's highest ranking uniformed military officer, Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Michael Mullen, has strongly stated his personal opinion that repeal "is the right thing to do." Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell and General John Shalikashvili have also made similar comments. But, perhaps more importantly, the vast majority of young veterans say that they are comfortable in the presence of gays and lesbians. There is no evidence to suggest that gays and lesbians serving openly in the military would affect unit cohesion. A number of studies have explored this claim - including an article in Joint Forces Quarterly that won the prestigious Secretary of Defense National Security Essay Competition - and all have shown that that there is no evidence to support it. Countries with similar militaries - including several of our closest allies, such as Britain, Canada and Israel -- successfully have gays and lesbians serve openly. Finally, the existing policy comes at a cost. By dismissing patriotic servicemen and women because of their sexuality, we limit the talent that is available at a time when America is in two wars and facing challenges around the world. For example, of the 13,000 people that have been dismissed since the DADT policy has been enacted, at least 1,000 held "critical occupations," such as interpreters and engineers. A particularly harmful example is the dismissal of 320 service members with vital language skills such as Arabic and Farsi only a few months after the fall of Baghdad. The discriminatory practice of prohibiting gays and lesbians from serving in the military is a harmful policy that is meant to prevent a problem that doesn't exist. It is no wonder that the military and the American people want to repeal it. Congress should keep that in mind tomorrow.
Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Bush administration Secretary of State Colin Powell urged the U.S. to fall behind the military leadership and support the repeal "don't ask, don't tell": "If the chiefs and commanders are comfortable with moving to change the policy, then I support it." Sadly, many conservatives have chosen not to follow Powell's example.