Sorry, the president cannot swivel his hips and say two snaps up and out with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Campaigning for office and actually governing are two very different entities. That is understood by longtime LGBT activists who have fought tirelessly for legislative change — for the most part without salaries or benefits. The current crop of what is being called Gay Lib. Inc., along with our younger voices, expect instant gratification to their near-idolization of candidate Obama.
When candidate Obama became President Obama, he had many issues on his plate, and repealing the military ban was, unsurprisingly, not at the top. Regardless, let’s look at where we are and how we got here.
Candidate Obama promised to end the military ban. He made that clear in his only live interview during the campaign. He said that he intends to do this in coordination with both the military and Congress. This is the Obama who likes to bring people together, and that is what you voted for. But now we’re saying screw what we voted for: Just do it.
The president, in keeping with his consensus-building approach, attempted to win over the military. He did this during a time when he was negotiating with the armed forces regarding his plans for Iraq and Afghanistan. Once they were all on the same page of our two wars, the president’s team said, “Hey guys, I have this issue ... ” Yeah, it is like horse trading, and sorry for any of you who thought that politics was anything other than that, but what we want is our horse trader to get the best deal. It seemed like he did. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen went up to Capitol Hill and said, yes, it’s time to find a way to end the ban. Wow, it looked like the military was joining the president in his call. The process began to take shape. It looked like a one- or two-year process. Then, two things happened.
One, that timetable wasn’t fast enough for some passionate members of our community who felt we had the votes in Congress to get it passed now — just in case the Democrats lose the majority in November’s election. This push was seen by members of the military as a breach of an unwritten agreement with the White House, which resulted in that letter from Gates saying let’s slow down this process. Add to that the now completely unstable political fortunes of Congressmembers up for reelection this November.
It hit the fan last Friday with this. In a strongly worded letter obtained by The Associated Press, Gates and Mullen told the House Armed Services Committee that forcing policy change on the military before it is ready would be a mistake.
“Our military must be afforded the opportunity to inform us of their concerns, insights and suggestions if we are to carry out this change successfully,” Gates and Mullen wrote to the panel’s chairman, Missouri Democrat Ike Skelton.
Gay-rights advocates want legislation this year that would freeze military firings of openly gay servicemembers, and some senior Democratic Senators have said they want to offer such a bill.
But other lawmakers, including Skelton, have said they are uneasy about lifting the ban and don’t want to act before the force is ready. Note that Gates’ boss is President Obama, so what is The White House response to this surprise letter?
“The President’s commitment to repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is unequivocal. This is not a question of if, but how. That’s why we’ve said that the implementation of any Congressional repeal will be delayed until the [Department of Defense] study of how best to implement that repeal is completed. The President is committed to getting this done both soon and right.”
That statement is no different than his promise on the campaign trail. No timetable, and that’s what you voted for.
Now, as written in this space before, here are the ways the ban can end:
— Repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation: Add a repeal amendment to the military budget or other appropriations legislation.
— A signing order or possibly an executive order, but that is open to legal questions and is not a permanent fix, since the next president could simply wipe it out with another executive order of his/her own.
The hard reality is that nothing will be completed by this November — with one possible exception. Maybe, just maybe, some Congressional leaders will get together with the Joint Chiefs to do a little horse trading and agree to ask the president to create a commission of some sort that would be empowered to look at how the ban affects the military. Bottom line, commission formed, president (after November election) announces that until the commission’s report is released, he is putting a halt to any “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” dismissals in the military. Gays get their two snaps in the air, Congress gets its breather and the military gets a step up on their future horse trading with Congress, even if they are somewhat angered by the president. But hey, President Truman desegregated the military in one order and President Lincoln allowed free black men the right to be in the military with one step.
As some say to the tea-party movement, there’s a way for them to have the voice they feel was taken away by this administration: Vote them out. Well, we have that same right, but the time for that is two years from now and it is my strong belief that, at that time, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will be history.
So the question is, is this pragmatic or Obama apologist?
Mark Segal is PGN publisher. He can be reached at email@example.com.