Retired senior military officers Thursday criticized Vice President Al Gore’s demand that, as president, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff must be pro-homosexual, saying such a litmus test would politicize the nation’s top military advisers.
They also warned it would diminish the pool of future leaders since most four-star generals and admirals support a ban on open homosexuality to protect unit cohesion.
Mr. Gore, running for the Democratic presidential nomination, has vowed to lift the military’s ban on open homosexuality. He issued his litmus test Wednesday night at a debate in Durham, N.H.
Retired Gen. Charles Krulak, who was appointed Marine Corps commandant by President Clinton, said Mr. Gore should be concerned with a candidate’s military know-how, not homosexual issues.
“To demand a litmus test regarding gays in the military, a social issue, instead of concentrating on what is really important, which is sound military advice, misses the mark,” Gen. Krulak said.
“I personally don’t understand why he made a comment like that, because I can’t imagine a commander in chief having a litmus test for a military officer that would reduce the number of candidates you can pick from. I for one would be unable to compete.”
Asked how many four-star officers today support open homosexuals in the military, Gen. Krulak answered, “Zero.”
A recent study by the Triangle Institute for Security Studies at the University of North Carolina found that senior officers “are strongly opposed to allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly.”
Retired Gen. Charles Horner, the top Air Force officer in Operation Desert Storm, said litmus tests should not be imposed on an issue for which there are rational reasons to oppose a homosexual-friendly military.
“I do think it’s unfortunate he would choose that issue as a litmus test,” Gen. Horner said. “It could cause you to lose people who are great leaders. I just wonder who talked him into this one because it’s stupid. But he has every right to do that.”
Added retired Army Col. Joseph Collins, a former Joint Chiefs speech writer and West Point instructor: “It’s a terrible thing to establish any kind of litmus test for any issue for the Joint Chiefs because then you start to politicize the military. This way you could interject partisanship into the military. And that ought never to happen.”
By tradition, the chiefs are expected to give the president and Congress their honest military advice absent political considerations. Mr. Gore’s edict forces a four-star officer to espouse homosexual rights if he hopes to attain a seat on the Joint Chiefs.
There are six Joint Chiefs members the chairman, vice chairman and chiefs of the four military branches. They are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
Mr. Gore announced his litmus test during a televised debate Wednesday night with former Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey.
“I would insist, before appointing anybody to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that that individual support my policy,” Mr. Gore said. “And yes, I would make that a requirement.”
Mr. Gore, who is battling Mr. Bradley for the Democratic nomination, has vowed that as president he would abolish the current ban on open homosexuals, known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Mr. Gore’s new requirement shows the steps he is willing to take to court the homosexual vote and campaign contributions. He has not issued such a test for any other federal appointment, including U.S. Supreme Court justices.
The irony is Mr. Gore is promising to shelve a policy endorsed by his boss, Mr. Clinton, and enforced by the administration for five years.
Mr. Clinton was unable to move a Democratic-controlled Congress in 1993 to lift the military’s outright ban on homosexuals. Instead, he settled on the “don’t ask, don’t tell” compromise. It allows homosexuals to serve as long as they keep their sexual conduct private.
He also encountered stiff opposition from the Joint Chiefs, all of whom had been appointed by President Bush.
Colin Powell, the Joint Chiefs chairman during the debate, told Congress in 1992 that homosexual conduct “is inconsistent with maintaining good order and discipline.”
“It’s difficult in a military setting where there is no privacy … to introduce a group of individuals proud, brave, loyal good Americans, but who favor a homosexual lifestyle and put them in with heterosexuals who would prefer not to have somebody of the same sex find them sexually attractive,” he said. “I think that’s a very difficult problem to give the military. I think it would be prejudicial to good order and discipline to try to integrate that into the current military structure.”
Mr. Clinton and the Joint Chiefs eventually agreed to the “don’t ask” compromise, as did key members of Congress.
But Congress also adopted a law, signed by Mr. Clinton as part of a defense budget bill, that bans homosexuals in the military, saying the practice is incompatible with military service.
Mr. Clinton said Thursday that if Mr. Gore wants to try to accomplish what he could not, the road still leads through Capitol Hill.
“I believe that the next president, if he wants to change the policy, will have to get the Congress to change the law,” Mr. Clinton told reporters Thursday. “I don’t think that the military and the president have the authority to do it.”
Mr. Clinton tried that in 1993, only to become embroiled in a bitter intraparty dispute with Congress that distracted the White House from other legislative priorities.
Mr. Gore’s criticism of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” came after a homosexual rights group released statistics showing the number of people discharged under the policy has increased from 597 in 1994 to 1,100 in 1998.
The group, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, asserts the increase stems from commanders conducting witch hunts based on flimsy evidence.
Homosexual-ban proponents argue the separation numbers are up because, under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the military no longer asks inductees if they are gay. Proponents also say some service members are using the homosexual admission to get out of the military. Those separated receive an honorable discharge.
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen recently ordered the Pentagon inspector general to conduct a field survey to ensure commanders are enforcing the ban fairly.
On several occasions since 1994, the Pentagon has vouched for the policy. Four months ago, it issued a statement saying “for the most part, the policy has been properly applied.”
Mr. Cohen has issued guidelines prohibiting harassment of personnel based on sexual orientation.