"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" On the Way Out?

Pretty big news on the military's ban on gay service members:

WASHINGTON — President Obama, the Pentagon and leading lawmakers reached agreement Monday on legislative language and a time frame for repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, clearing the way for Congress to take up the measure as soon as this week.

It was not clear whether the deal had secured the votes necessary to pass the House and Senate, but the agreement removed the Pentagon’s objections to having Congress vote quickly on repealing the contentious 17-year-old policy, which bars gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the armed services.

House Democratic leaders were meeting Monday night and considering taking up the measure as soon as Thursday. But even if the measure passes, the policy cannot not change until after Dec. 1, when the Pentagon completes a review of its readiness to deal with the changes. Mr. Obama, his defense secretary and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff would also be required to certify that repeal would not harm readiness.

This would be passed as part of the defense authorization bill, meaning it would not be subject to a Republican filibuster. Pretty much everyone assumes that the review of the policy now going on within the Pentagon will conclude that DADT is no longer necessary. The problem is that it's not just a military policy but an actual law, which means it needs to be repealed via legislation and not just by an order of the secretary of defense. This compromise, should it pass, would do that. It would be left to the military to implement. It's possible that in December, the secretary of defense will declare that DADT can't be removed without harm to military readiness, in which case the policy would stay. But that seems highly unlikely.

This will no doubt bring on a new round in the debate about whether Obama is a true progressive, or someone who delays and compromises too much. Gay activists will note that they had to push hard to get to this point (some even chained themselves to the White House fence). Many will argue that it will be two years into his presidency before the policy is finally gone, and in that time many more gay service members will have been expelled (although expulsions have been suspended while the review is underway). Some will doubt that Obama was passionate enough about doing the right thing.

You can make that case. But you also have to acknowledge the simple fact that whether it took too long or not, it looks like Obama will have succeeded (with the important help of Robert Gates and Mike Mullen) in ending the ban on gay Americans serving in the military. That's no small thing.

-- Paul Waldman

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