Military – Asked and Answered
December 01, 2010, 12:00pm

Yesterday, after an exhaustive and at times controversial ten-month review of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen announced that the purported risk of repealing the discriminatory policy is quite low. The 274-page report was released one day early after Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) pressured Gates to give the Senate as much time as possible to review the results and lift the ban during the lame duck session. (The House passed the measure in May.) On MSNBC this morning, Lieberman said, “I believe we have more than 60 Senators, including a good solid handful of Republicans, who are prepared to vote to take up the Armed Services bill, which already has within it the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Gates himself endorsed the review and called on Congress to pass repeal before another court decision found the ban unconstitutional and compelled the armed forces to stop enforcing the policy. “Now that we have completed this review, I strongly urge the Senate to pass this legislation and send it to the president for signature before the end of this year,” he said. “It is only a matter of time before the federal courts are drawn once more into the fray, with the very real possibility that this change would be imposed immediately by judicial fiat — by far the most disruptive and damaging scenario I can imagine, and the one most hazardous to military morale, readiness and battlefield performance.” Defense Department General Counsel Jeh C. Johnson and Army Gen. Carter F. Ham — the co-chairs of the Working Group that conducted the review — also reiterated that the study represented “the largest, most comprehensive review of a personnel policy matter which which the Department of Defense has ever undertaken.” The study is far more comprehensive, for example, than efforts taken to prepare the force for the integration of African Americans and women.

LITTLE RISK FROM REPEAL: The Working Group’s extensive survey of 400,000 servicemembers and 150,000 military spouses found that 70 percent of servicemembers said they would be able to “work together to get the job done” with a gay servicemember in their immediate units. Sixty-nine percent admitted to working in a unit with a co-worker that they believed to be gay and, of those who did, 92 percent said that their unit’s “ability to work together” with a gay person was “very good,” “good” or “neither good nor poor” (89 percent for those in Army combat arms units; 84 percent for those in Marine combat arms units.) What’s more, 74 percent of spouses of military servicemembers said repeal of DADT would not have a negative “impact on their view of whether their husbands or wives should continue to serve.” The highest rate of resistance to lifting the ban came from the Marine Corps, where servicemembers said they were least likely to encounter gay troops. Whereas approximately 30 percent of servicemembers across all branches expressed “negative views or concerns” about lifting the ban, between 40 and 60 percent of Marines in various combat arms specialties offered a negative opinion. As Johnson explained, that resistance “is driven by misperceptions and stereotypes.” The Marine Corps respondents also indicated “a lower percentage who had actual experience of serving in a unit alongside someone who was gay or lesbian,” Ham added. “We did find, for example, in Marine Corps and Army combat arms units who had — in combat environments when those were — when they were asked about their experience with gay servicemembers in their unit reported actually quite favorably on the unit’s performance. So I think — again, I think it’s a largely — there is a differential in actual experience.” U.S. allies with experience in repealing similar bans, notably Canada and the United Kingdom, also saw indicators of opposition in pre-repeal surveys. Once the bans were dropped, however, repeal proved to be a non-event.

IMPLEMENTING REPEAL: During the press conference yesterday, the military leadership stressed the importance of lifting the ban in a deliberate yet timely manner. The study itself offers several recommendations. For instance, the Working Group assumes that implementation of repeal will depend upon “strong leadership, a clear message, and proactive education.” The report recommends equipping commanders in the field with the education and training tools to educate the force on what is expected of them in a post repeal environment. The group also rules out the need for special regulations governing the conduct of gay servicemembers or the establishment of separate facilities and argues that the Department “should issue guidance that all standards of conduct apply uniformly, without regard to sexual orientation.” On the delicate issue of providing benefits to the same-sex partners of servicemembers, the report notes that while the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevents same-sex partners from accessing many benefits, there are some benefits that are available to anyone of a Service member’s choosing. “Department of Defense and the Services should inform servicemember about these types of benefits, if the policy is repealed,” Johnson noted during the press conference, arguing that another set of benefits, which are not statutorily prohibited, but do not extend to same-sex partners under current regulation, “should be revised and redefined to include same-sex partners.” The Working Group does not, however, recommend that the DoD “revise their regulations to specifically add same-sex committed relationships to the definition of ‘dependent,’ ‘family members,’ or other similar terms in those regulations, for purposes of extending benefits eligibility.” As legal analyst Andrew Cohen points out, for gay or lesbian service members who choose to come out after the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, “this means no financial breaks on housing allowances or health care benefits that are available to married couples.” The Working Group also recommends that “service members who have been previously separated under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell be permitted to apply for reentry into the military.”

SENATE MUST ACT: On Thursday and Friday the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold two days of hearings with Gates, Mullen, the co-chairmen of the Working Group, and the four Service Chiefs. In a preview of the hearings, Gates was asked about Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) recent argument that the study would not provide the military or Congress with sufficient information about the effects of military readiness and unit cohesion. Gates said McCain “is mistaken” before adding, “This report does provide a sound basis for making decisions on this law.” “It’s hard for me to imagine that you can come up with a more comprehensive approach,” he said. President Obama, who discussed the results of the study with Service Chiefs on Monday, also issued a statement endorsing the report’s findings and calling on the Senate to “act as soon as possible so I can sign this repeal into law this year and ensure that Americans who are willing to risk their lives for their country are treated fairly and equally.” Still, with a busy calendar full of economic concerns and urgency surrounding the new START treaty, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has yet to announce his floor plan for the National Defense Authorization Act – the bill which includes the DADT repeal amendment. Earlier this week, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR), long considered a swing vote on the issue, said that he considered homosexuality a “sin” and would be voting against the measure. Newly-sworn in Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) – who voted against repeal in the House but supported the underlining National Defense Authorization Act – also hinted that he would not support taking up the bill in the lame duck Congress. At least eight undecided senators promised to consider the results of the Pentagon’s Review before deciding how to vote on the measure.

Think Fast

The President’s debt commission panel will release their report at 9:30 a.m. today, and reports indicate that it will contain a recommendation to cut Social Security, but include a payroll tax holiday. The panel’s co-chairman, Erskine Bowles, said that — if enacted — the plan would cut $3.8 trillion from the national deficit.

Senate GOP leadership is circulating a letter pledging to enact a new Republican maneuver to “block action on virtually all Democratic-backed legislation unrelated to tax cuts and government spending” in the lame duck session. If carried out, the strategy would “doom” DADT repeal and the DREAM Act, but the START treaty would remain unaffected.

After the “much-anticipated” White House meeting yesterday, President Obama and GOP leaders “expressed determination to reach an agreement” on the Bush tax cuts. Participants emerged with a loose framework that could result in the temporary extension of all the tax cuts, ratification of the START treaty, unemployment benefits extension, and a federal budget for 2011.

Peter Diamond, the Nobel laureate economist nominated for the Fed, said that he supports a temporary extension of middle-income Bush-era tax cuts and ending the cuts for the highest earners. “The amount of stimulus you get out of the tax cuts on the highest income people is very small,” Diamond said. “The impact on the long-term debt is big.”

“Nearly a quarter of the incoming class of 84 House Republicans have assets of at least $1 million,” a Politico analysis found. “Congress has long been filled with the rich and famous,” nearly half of current Congress members are worth more than $1 million, but the incoming class is unusually wealthy.

Bloomberg News reports that former Obama OMB Director Peter Orszag “is in advanced talks” with Citigroup and may take a “job in the New York-based firm’s investment-banking division.” Citigroup was the recipient of a $45 billion government bailout in 2008 and the “Treasury Department still owns 11 percent of the bank’s shares.”

Employers “in the U.S. announced plans in November to cut 48,711 jobs, the most in eight months.” The cuts come at a time when unemployment is nearing a “26-year high.”

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said yesterday that the U.S. is losing its edge in clean energy innovation to China and argued that the U.S. should increase funding for energy research and development for the sake of future economic prosperity. “China is doing this,” Chu said. “It seems to be working. We should be doing this.”

The Senate passed “the biggest overhaul of the nation’s food safety laws in seven decades” yesterday — a number of new rules and regulations that will require food manufacturers and farmers to use scientific methods to prevent contaminated food. The legislation will likely be signed into law in the coming weeks, and is in part a response to the recent wave of food scares involving spinach, peanuts and other foods that killed at least a dozen people.

And finally: At a bipartisan congressional summit yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) use a fruit metaphor to argue fiscal policy. “Don’t raise the Social Security retirement age in order to give a tax cut to the rich,” she said. “Apples, oranges, and bananas don’t mate.”

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Daily Grill

“[According to WikiLeaks docs, Arabs] are not worrying about Israeli settlements on the West Bank.”
— The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol, 11/29/10


“[Egyptian General Intelligence Service Chief Omar Soliman] expressed concern, however, that continued settlement activity, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent ‘radical’ speech, and insufficient economic development in Palestinian areas were undermining the chances for resuming peace negotiations.”
— State Department cable, 7/14/09