- The Washington Times - Monday, May 25, 2009

President Obama’s top military adviser Sunday cautioned against a hasty move to lift the ban on gays serving openly in the armed forces, saying the military was in a tough, stressful situation fighting two wars and doesn’t need to get involved in a bruising social-policy battle.

But Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added that the Pentagon would comply if Congress repeals the Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

“I would need some time for a force that’s under a great deal of stress - we’re in our sixth year of fighting two wars - to look at if this change occurs, to look at implementing it in a very deliberate, measured way,” Adm. Mullen said on ABC’s “This Week” program.

President Obama vowed during last year’s campaign to scrap the 16-year-old policy that allows gays to serve so long as they don’t disclose their sexuality or engage in homosexual behavior.

“The president has made his strategic intent very clear, that it’s his intent at some point in time to ask Congress to change this law,” Adm. Mullen said. “I think it’s important to also know that this is the law; this isn’t a policy. And for the rules to change, a law has to be changed.”

But Mr. Obama has been slow to move on his promise and has not set a deadline to repeal the policy, frustrating gay activists and many liberal supporters.

Adm. Mullen also warned Sunday that acting too hastily risks a polarizing debate that would undermine the U.S. military.

“What I would hope to do in this … again, given the strategic intent of the president, is to avoid a polarizing debate that puts a force that’s very significantly under stress in the middle. And to get this, get to this, assuming the law is going to change, and, again, a measured, deliberate way.”

The president also is eager to avoid the mistakes made by President Clinton early in his first term over the issue of gays in the military. Mr. Clinton had campaigned to lift what was then an outright military ban on gays, but was met with an onslaught of resistance when he tried to make good on his promise.

His “don’t ask, don’t tell” compromise was mocked by gay activists and conservatives alike, resulting in a political miscue that haunted the rest of his presidency.

Mr. Obama’s advisers suggested a detailed, deliberate plan is needed that takes into account all potential consequences. White House National Security Adviser James L. Jones said earlier this month on “This Week” that he was not sure the policy would be overturned anytime soon.

“This is a very sensitive issue, and it has to be discussed over time,” said the retired Marine general. “We have a lot on our plate right now.”

But Adm. Mullen on Sunday stopped short of saying either that now is not the time to repeal the policy or that he would speak against such a move if Congress were to ask him to testify.

“If the law changes, we’ll comply,” he said. “There’s absolutely no question about that.”

Adm. Mullen also said the military would be able to keep political goals on another matter - troop withdrawal in Iraq, saying that a June 30 deadline to withdraw combat troops from the country’s cities likely will be met despite a recent increase in violence.

“These ticks, upticks in violence are going to occur,” he said.

He also said the military is on track to decrease troop numbers to 35,000 in August 2010, and for a complete withdrawal by the end of 2011.

“We’re on a good path now. And we’ll have to see. I mean, the next 12 to 18 months are really critical there in that regard,” he said.

His optimism is bolstered, Adm. Mullen said, in large part to Iraqi security forces that have “improved dramatically.” He added, however, that the possibility remains for U.S. forces to remain in Iraq longer if invited to do so by that country’s government.

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