Gates Warns Congress Not to Repeal ‘DADT Before He Has Plan

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is apparently nervous that Congress might just repeal DADT sooner than he wants.

Via the AP:

Gates  "In a strongly worded letter, obtained by The Associated Press, Gates told a House committee on Friday that forcing policy changes on the military before it's ready 'would send a very damaging message to our men and women in uniform that in essence their views, concerns and perspectives do not matter.'
Gay rights advocates want legislation this year that would freeze military firings of openly gay service members, and some lawmakers are planning to offer such a bill."

MetroWeekly has more on the letter

"The letter came in response to a request from the committee chairman. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), that was sent on April 28 asking Gates for his 'views and position on the advisability of legislative proposals that may impact the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy.'

Writing that the Department must 'develop an attentive comprehensive implementation plan' prior to any legislative action, Gates and Mullen also told Skelton that they would 'provide the President and Congress with the results of this effort in order to ensure that this step is taken in the most informed and effective manner.'"

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese responded to the letter:

“Today’s letter from Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton flies in the face of the President’s commitment in the State of the Union address to work with Congress to repeal the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law this year. If the President is going to fulfill his promise it is essential that he address this contradiction immediately. It is inconceivable that the Secretary of Defense would so blatantly undermine the Commander-in-Chief’s policy commitment.

“There is no reason that Congress cannot move forward with repeal while the Pentagon’s review of how – not if – to end the ban on open service continues apace. As part of the legislative repeal, Congress can provide additional time to the Pentagon for a careful and thoughtful implementation of this change to the law. Action by Congress this year, in the National Defense Authorization bill, will not, as the Secretary suggests, ‘send a very damaging message to our men and women in uniform that in essence their views, concerns and perspectives do not matter on an issue with such a direct impact on and consequence for them and their families.’ But failure to act this year will, without a doubt, continue to send the message to the thousands of gay and lesbian Americans serving their country in silence that their views and concerns, and the impact on them and their families, do not matter to the military leadership, including their Commander-in-Chief. ”

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand released the following statement: "I respectfully disagree with Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen.  Congress should not sit on their hands. Now is the time for Congress to show strong leadership and repeal this disastrous policy.  ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is wrong for our national security and inconsistent with the moral foundation upon which our country was founded. When we repeal this policy – and we will repeal this policy – we will strengthen America – both militarily and morally."

The White House released the following statement:
"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 DOD study of how best to implement that repeal is completed. The President is committed to getting this done both soon and right."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reacted to the letter by calling for an end to all gay discharges:

"We all look forward to the report on the review of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy by the Defense Department. In the meantime, the Administration should immediately place a moratorium on dismissals under this policy until the review has been completed and Congress has acted."

More on this as it develops…

Dadt In related news, Nathaniel Frank, senior fellow at the Palm Center, posted an article today in the Huffington Post about the box we're in as Obama, Congress, and the Pentagon face over this issue as elections approach. A bit of it:

So: The Pentagon says it must take orders from Congress; the Congress says it will wait for the go-ahead from the Pentagon. The White House says as little as possible.

You see, President Obama knows that lifting the ban is both right and doable, morally and politically. But the White House has chosen to spend its first two years pushing other priorities, out of fear that gay rights is a political albatross. That's no longer true, as polls show consistently not only that most Americans, including most conservatives and Republicans, support repeal, but that politicians who support repeal will not suffer harm even by those constituents who oppose repeal. Yet Democrats, in both the White House and Congress, are scarred by the Rovian tactics of the past, which successfully used gay rights as a wedge issue against them.

So the White House parked repeal in a Working Group for an entire year, in an effort to build military support, while delaying repeal until after this November's midterm elections. Where Dems are expected to lose seats, and possibly the margin to achieve repeal. Does this sound like a plan?

Here's a better one: A report published in Attitudes Aren't Free authored by a bipartisan panel of retired flag officers (that was convened by the Palm Center) recommends that Congress unlock the military's hands and repeal "don't ask, don't tell" so the military can achieve equal treatment of gay troops. There is no reason that legislation should micromanage how the Pentagon makes this change, so long as it makes the change. That means there is no reason that passes the giggle test for Congress to hide behind the Pentagon's study. Its chairmen have already said their report will not answer the question of whether to end the ban, but how to do it smoothly. So why await the study before taking a vote? Everyone but the luddites will win if Congress votes now to repeal the ban, while giving the Pentagon the timetable it needs to implement the change according to the results of the study.