After strong appeal from Pentagon, opponents of ‘Don’t ask’ repeal ponder next mov

Saint Ivuga

JF-Expert Member
Aug 21, 2008
After strong appeal from Pentagon, opponents of ‘Don't ask' repeal ponder next move

By Liz Goodwin

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates appealed strongly to the Senate to repeal the military's ban on openly gay service members within the next month, telling reporters Tuesday that the Pentagon's most comprehensive study of troop opinion found there would be little risk to repealing "Don't ask, don't tell."

Gates mentioned by name the most passionate defender of the military's gay ban, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who has said this study -- which takes into account the survey responses of 115,000 troops and 44,000 military spouses -- is not comprehensive enough to authorize a repeal. McCain has strongly opposed repeal of the ban, and had heretofore insisted that Congress refrain from acting on the question before consulting the results of the Pentagon study. Now that those results seem to favor supporters of repeal, McCain and other backers of "Don't ask, don't tell" face a dilemma: how to keep making their case when not merely influential military leaders, but rank-and-file soldiers appear to have no serious problem with gays openly serving in the military.

McCain's approach has been to suggest the study itself is inadequate.

"In this respect I think he's mistaken," Gates said. "This does provide a sound basis for drawing conclusions on this law...It's hard for me to imagine that you could come up with a more comprehensive approach."

McCain's spokeswoman, Brooke Buchanan, told The Lookout in an email that the senator is "currently in the process of carefully reviewing the Pentagon's report." She did not comment on whether the recommendations will sway the senator to support repeal.

Such a move seems unlikely, though, since many of the report's findings were leaked weeks ago -- and as the preliminary results became public, McCain kept up his opposition to repeal. He made a point of assailing the report itself as inadequate. Over the weekend, McCain said the ban on openly gay service members is "working."

Gates and Chiefs of Staff Chair Adm. Michael Mullen were unequivocal in their recommendation that Congress repeal the policy to avoid a "disruptive" and sudden transition they fear may be handed down by a federal judge. More than two-thirds of surveyed troops said that they're fine with serving alongside openly gay comrades. The study also lays out a comprehensive transition process involving leadership training and education that the Pentagon is confident will be fairly painless.

But there is still some ammunition in the report for opponents of repeal.

Among Marines and other specialty combat troops, resistance to openly gay service is higher than the overall average of 30 percent. Between 40 and 60 percent of combat troops say they think repealing the policy will be bad for troop morale. (Opposition is lower among troops who say they have served with a gay comrade before.) Military chaplains are also very strongly opposed.

Even with these concerns, the overall recommendations seem to put any opponents of repeal in a tough spot.

About 10 senators have said they were waiting on the report to make their final decision on how they will vote. One of them, Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana, said through spokesman Mark Helmke that he is still reviewing the report. Democratic Sen. Jim Webb is also still studying the report, according to spokesman Will Jenkins, who added that the senator has praised the study as unprecedentedly thorough. Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor signaled in an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that he would vote against repeal.

The testimony of service chiefs in upcoming committee meetings could remove the last cover for opponents. If most of the service chiefs back up the study and support the conclusion that Congress should end the policy before the courts do, it will be politically impossible for McCain or other opponents to maintain their stance. Gates, however, said today that the service chiefs are "less sanguine" about the report's findings than he and Mullen are.

The House has already voted to end the policy. After committee hearings Thursday and Friday, Sen. Harry Reid could schedule a vote as early as next week.

( AP)

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