The Spectacle Blog

Don’t Ask and Don’t Tell Politically Inconvenient Questions

The smoking gun in yesterday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing was the question that the Pentagon deliberately chose not to ask our troops.

By on 12.3.10 | 5:08AM

One of the most glaring omissions in the Pentagon's new "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" survey is whether U.S. military personnel believe a change in policy is necessary, desirable or advantageous. That is, should we repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"?

The Pentagon never asked that question, and for an obvious reason: It doesn't want to have to tell the White House what the White House doesn't want to hear. Which is that most U.S. military personnel -- and certainly most Marines and most infantrymen -- believe we should leave well enough alone and retain the current policy.

Because in truth, that policy has worked out quite well. Gay men and women can serve, albeit discreetly, and without incidence or disruption.

Of course, that's not what you hear from the media and the gay lobby; however, it happens to be true: Most servicemen and women who are drummed out of the military have brought their expulsion upon themselves. They have made an issue of their sexuality, thus forcing the hands of their superiors.

And so, the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" survey had to be manipulated in order to convey the politically correct message, which is: "Everyone's for repeal! Do it now!"

In yesterday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Sen. John McCain rightly seized upon this manipulation to argue that the Pentagon's survey is fundamentally flawed. This created one of the most dramatic tension points in the hearing; and McCain won this round big-time.

"I can't think of a single precedent in American history of doing a referendum of the American armed forces on a policy issue," declared Defense Secretary Robert Gates. "Holding a referendum of members of the armed services on a policy matter," he added, "is a very dangerous path."

Are you going to ask them if they want 15-month tours? Are you gonna ask them if they want to be part of the surge in Iraq? That's not the way our civilian-led military has ever worked in our entire history. The should question needs to be decided by the Congress or the courts, as far as I'm concerned.

Notice the sleight of hand by Gates. He raises the question of who should decide policy matters. But that's not in dispute. No one's ever questioned the legal authority of Congress to establish criteria for military service. (And as for the courts, they have no jurisdiction here. The criteria for military service is a political, not a judicial question.)

Moreover, military personnel decisions that affect families involve a very different set of policy questions from those involving the deployment of forces in overseas contingency operations. Surely it is reasonable to expect that Congress will be more indulgent of what troops think about personnel decisions that involve their families than it will be of what troops think about when and where to fight our nation's wars.

Historically, Congress has decided when and where to go to war because that affects American foreign policy, which is a congressional responsibility. However, Congress has tended to defer to the military on the criteria for military service, because it rightly views these criteria as an internal military matter for which the military has special expertise.

In any case, it certainly makes sense to have policy decisions informed by the thoughts, views and observations of our troops. That, after all, as McCain observed, is the essence of good leadership.

Everything I ever learned about leadership, everything I ever practiced about leadership, every great leader I've ever known always consulted with his subordinates for their views -- no matter what the issue. And certainly an issue of this magnitude deserves that leaders take into consideration the views of their subordinates.

It doesn't mean that they are dictated [to] by the views of their subordinates. But I never made a major decision in the military without going around and talking to the enlisted people -- the ones that would be tasked to carry out whatever the mission is [emphasis added].

So I'm almost incredulous to see that on an issue of this magnitude we wouldn't at least solicit the views of the military about whether it [the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy] should be changed or not.

Now, those views may be rejected, those opinions… may be discounted. But to somehow say, "Well, we're not going to have a referendum."

It's not a referendum. That's not what leadership is. Leadership is soliciting the views of your subordinates -- and the[n] you're able to carry out your mission because you have to rely on them…

So to say, "Well, we didn't need to ask their opinion on whether it should be repealed or not" violates, in my view, one of the fundamental principles of leadership.

McCain has it exactly right. It is precisely this type of stellar leadership that I witnessed in the Marine Corps while serving in Iraq, and which I wrote about recently here at The American Spectator. Marine captains and majors, I noted, sometimes deferred to more junior corporals and sergeants.

The captains and majors, obviously, had controlling legal authority; and no one, least of all the Marine corporals and sergeants, ever doubted or questioned this. But everyone recognized that, because of their combat savvy and experience, the corporals and sergeants had a certain moral authority which had to be acknowledged and respected.

Yet when pressed on this issue, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, insisted that "it's an incredibly bad precedent to ask them [your people and your subordinates] about, you know, to essentially vote on a policy."

Ever the fighter pilot, McCain honed in on his target and delivered a devastating and irrefutable strike:

It's not voting, Sir. It's asking their views. It's asking their views, and whether they would agree or disagree with a change… Whenever a new policy or any course of action were contemplated, you would ask the views of others. You wouldn't necessarily accept them.

But for you to sit there and say, "Well, we wouldn't want to ask their views." I mean, that to me is – [It] makes this whole exercise here, [which] took so much time and effort and money, a bit… unrealistic…

Why didn't we simply just ask them how they felt about it [retaining or repealing the current "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy] -- just as you would [when contemplating] any other course of action? Again, every great leader [that] I've known has said: "What are your views on this issue?"

Indeed, that was the key question in yesterday's hearing. That was the dog that never barked. That was the smoking gun. And of course, we know the answer to that question even if our senior military and political leaders won't say so. Facts, after all, are stubborn things.

For these reasons, then, Congress should refrain from taking any precipitous action over "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Find out what our troops really think; and ascertain whether a change in policy is even necessary. Don't believe the media and activist spin; and do right by our troops.

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