KRISINGER: Fake ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ review?

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In February, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Pentagon would conduct a departmental review of issues associated with repealing the law known as “Don’t Ask, Dont Tell.”His testimony suggested that the senior Pentagon working group he was appointing would be objective, but it was clear his guidance stemmed from President Obama’s State of the Union promise to work with Congress to repeal the law.

“The mandate of this working group is to thoroughly, objectively and methodically examine all aspects of this question and produce its findings and recommendations in the form of an implementation plan,” explained the secretary in his testimony.Later, noting its political sensitivity, Mr. Gates acknowledged that “this is a very difficult and, in the minds of some, controversial policy question. … We will now conduct a final detailed assessment of this proposal before proceeding.”

In his joint testimony with the secretary before the committee, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen implied similar objectivity for the review.Adm. Mullen added, “We understand perfectly the president’s desire to see the law repealed, and we owe him our best military advice about the impact of such a repeal and the manner in which we would implement a change in policy.”

Recent events, though, suggest repeal of the law proceeds regardless of the review’s outcomes and recommendations that are not due until December. Within the past two weeks, Mr. Gates approved new rules that will make it harder to discharge homosexuals, rules that will now require general officer involvement in discharge proceedings and tougher standards for evidence used to identify and discharge homosexual service members.

It also appears dissent within the Department of Defense is not welcome. Recently, Tony Perkins, a prominent conservative Christian leader, had his invitation to speak at a prayer breakfast at Andrews Air Force Base rescinded because his organization supports keeping the ban on gays in the military.

So, is repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” a foregone conclusion?

At the heart of the matter, Americans instinctively understand that the guiding rationale for any military regulation, policy or directive must be how it supports both military effectiveness and the good order and discipline of our troops. Given the secretary’s own standards for the review - “thoroughly, objectively and methodically examine” - it stands to reason that a viable and possible outcome of the review is that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” could remain in place.

What would happen in December if the secretary’s working group returns with its best military advice and recommends that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” should remain in place? Already, at least one service chief - the Marine Corps commandant - and probably the officer closest to the issue of military personnel living and serving in close quarters, says he opposes ending the ban. Chiefs of the Army and Air Force have also expressed reservations, while at least one senior field commander in the Pacific expressed his opposition to ending the ban in an unconventional, controversial letter to the Pacific edition of the Stars and Stripes military newspaper.

In seeking the best military advice, Mr. Gates additionally wrote that it was “essential that the working group systematically engage the force.” In November, the Military Times newspapers surveyed its active-duty subscribers and found that a majority (51 percent) remain opposed to homosexuals serving openly, while only 30 percent favored it. The same poll found the number of military retirees who oppose the idea had actually jumped 7 percentage points.

Since the military had also not previously conducted its own study of how to best incorporate openly homosexual members, the working group will get a chance to examine the multiple practical issues - e.g., housing, benefits, regulations, unit cohesion, etc. - of homosexual service members declaring their sexual orientation, openly acting it out, and expecting acceptance from other service members.It is also not unreasonable to expect that the working group could generate findings and recommendations from these issues that do not support the law’s repeal.

Objective standards of military effectiveness, particularly while our military is stressed by extraordinarily high demands of combat and global commitments, must be the litmus test for decisions on any personnel policy. In December, should the collective “best military advice” from senior military leadership be that repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is just not conducive to military effectiveness and good order and discipline, then Pentagon leadership must carry that message to the president and Congress, however unpopular that might be.

Likewise, Congress - where ultimate authority to change the law resides - should also dispassionately decide only after carefully considering the best military advice from senior military leadership.

A repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” arbitrarily decided on by still very much unsettled, controversial issues of American society at large, political promises - or both - at the expense of objective standards of military effectiveness, good order and discipline, would be the greater disservice to this nation.

Retired Air Force Col. Chris J. Krisinger works for a defense contractor.

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