Hope, But Verify
December 20th, 2010
One way or another, President Barack Obama’s strategy for repealing DADT has somehow paid off. I was skeptical because if it were possible to design a strategy intended to fail, this would be how you do it, by timing a Pentagon study to finish after after midterm elections and holding off a vote until a contentious lame duck session of Congress. And with a Republican majority waiting in the wings in the House, it was all but certain that if DADT repeal failed this year, it would be several years before we would get another crack at it. This narrowed the opportunity for repeal’s passage to just a few short weeks. And when Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid called a snap vote on December 9th without even taking the minimal care of ensuring he had the votes lined up on the Democratic side — Sen. Blanche Lincoln was sitting in the dentist’s chair when the roll was called — it appeared that the entire effort to repeal DADT was nothing but a charade.
In the end, President Obama’s strategy worked after all. But it worked not so much because it was a brilliant strategy but because he was lucky. He was lucky that Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) took DADT repeal seriously more than just about anyone else in the Senate, and that Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) saw an opportunity to stand on the right side of history slipping away. I know it galls a lot of people to say this, but we actually have the hard work and perseverance of Sens. Lieberman and Collins to thank for retrieving the legislation from the shredder when everyone else said it couldn’t be done.
I have no doubt that President Obama wants DADT repealed. I do however have doubts about his urgency. The law is comatose — President Barack Obama is expected to sign the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 some time this week — but the policy remains. The legislation that recently passed the Senate only repeals the law that prohibits LGBT people from serving in the military. It does not require that the military permit LGBT people to serve openly. What’s more, the new law doesn’t repeal the old law right away, but sets out a process by which the policy can be rescinded. President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mulling must certify to Congress in writing that the military has drafted the necessary policies and regulations, and that the changes will not impact troop readiness, cohesion or military recruitment and retention. After that certification has been sent to Congress, sixty days must pass before DADT becomes history.
If certification were sent to Congress tomorrow, DADT cannot be officially repealed until the end of February. And we know that certification won’t come tomorrow. In fact, we have no idea when it will occur because the new law does not give a timetable. That uncertainty is leading to widespread speculation of how long repeal will actually take. Some say six months; others a year or even longer:
The service chiefs wanted to have more than a year to implement the new policy, citing the need to train the force and prepare it for “open service,” according to a source close to the matter.
Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, for example, may demand that physical modifications be made to accommodate concerns among some Marines about showering with other Marines who are serving openly. All of this could take time.
Amos may have backing on Capitol Hill, where Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), a former Marine, has been pushing the Pentagon to phase in any new policy. Webb said in a statement last week that Defense Secretary Robert Gates confirmed to him that implementation would be “sequenced in order to protect small unit cohesion.”
“We have not determined the specific methodology that would be used should this legislation pass, but I can assure you that the specific concerns that you raise will be foremost in my mind as we develop an implementation plan,” Gates told Webb in a Dec. 17 letter. “Further, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and I remain committed to work closely with the Service Chiefs and the Combatant Commanders in developing this process.”
The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) and Secretary Gates caution LGBT service members from coming out just yet and for good reason: DADT is still on the books, and will be for quite some time.
The hard work of convincing Congress to repeal the law is over. For that we can celebrate. But now we must roll up our sleeves and begin the hard work of pushing the White House and the Defense Department to follow through with repeal. When Obama took office, the White House Web site offered a very specific set of promises to the LGBT community, and we’ve been trying to hold a reluctant administration accountable to those promises ever since then. We can see repeal on the horizon, but we’re not there yet. Once repeal is an actual fact on the ground, then we can give the President credit for accomplishing this task. But not before then.
Update: The Advocate reports that the repeal legislation will be signed on Wednesday.