Calvin Freiburger

Repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: Smart Politics, But What About Implementation?

Posted on February 3 2010 4:55 pm
Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College. He also writes for the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.
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With tanking poll numbers, his key policy initiative in shambles, and once impenetrable Democratic seats feeling the strange, terrifying prospect of competition, there seems to be a tragic-yet-inescapable truth about our super-cool, genius president who was once “sort of God”:

Frankly, it kind of sucks to be Barack Obama right about now.

The President isn’t out of tricks yet, though.  Throwing a bone to the Left, he plans to ease up on homosexuals serving openly in the military.  Many assume the move to be a political no-brainer, since Obama’s gay backers have wanted it so long and have been ticked off by his inaction on their issues, and since support for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has eroded substantially in recent years, even among Republicans.

The Daily Beast’s Lee Siegel, however, is not amused:

The genius of this move is almost too dazzling to grasp. Even as Obama is alienating the Chinese with a wholly unnecessary arms sale to Taiwan—which at this point is about as strategically important an ally as Luxembourg—even as he is sinking us deeper into Afghanistan as the axis of terror revolves around Pakistan and Yemen, Obama is going to make it possible for homosexuals to die with fully disclosed sexual identities overseas.

Pardon the sarcasm, but repealing the Pentagon’s prohibition against openly gay soldiers is so 1993. Perhaps Obama is still so busy searching for hints about his destiny in books about Lincoln and FDR that he has forgotten about a president named Bill Clinton, whose decision to take on the Pentagon’s notorious ban on sexual honesty inflamed the culture wars that would engulf Clinton’s presidency.

The fact is that things have utterly changed since Clinton’s ill-fated, if good-hearted, initiative. That attempt at a liberal expansion of individual rights was, to a great extent, retaliation against the new force of moralizing right-wing Christianity that Reagan had brought into American politics. The early 1990s were roiling with Moral Majority screeds in the countryside, and PC putsches at the universities, and the whole country screaming at the top of its lungs for or against diversity and multiculturalism.

Siegel’s no social conservative; he sees DADT as nowhere near as important as same-sex marriage, and fears that pushing for the former will lead to a public-opinion backlash against the latter.  He also expects Obama’s move to contribute to his generally alienating everyone.

Admittedly, I certainly hope Siegel’s right, but I’m not so sure.  The overall polls are pretty solidly in his favor on this one, and even social conservatives like National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru are sympathetic.  Sure, the religious and pro-family groups won’t go for it, but let’s face it: Obama’s already well past the point of no return with them.

The politics are one thing, but what about the principle?  Though I disagree with homosexuality and passionately oppose same-sex marriage, I am sympathetic to the desire of patriotic gay Americans to serve their country.  On the other hand, there is no right to military service (if there is, then I demand access to a rocket launcher this instant!), and all personnel decisions should put military effectiveness above all other considerations, such as political correctness or the personal gratification of individual soldiers.  There’s nothing homophobic about recognizing the potential complications of sexual attraction (mutual or otherwise) becoming a factor in extremely close-knit military living conditions.  It’s no different than the issues with female military service.

I think that Max Boot has the most sensible answer—that it depends on the position:

The vast majority of service personnel are stationed at giant bases, whether in Iraq and Afghanistan or in Texas and North Carolina, where it is not hard to get privacy and where their jobs resemble those of civilian workers in many ways. Going to the bathroom involves, literally, a visit to the bathroom — not to a slit trench. Sexual issues are already raised on those bases by the presence of women. In fact the problem is more serious because women in heterosexual relationships have the potential to get pregnant — as some servicewomen do, thereby having to go home and creating a vacancy that has to be filled by someone else. There are also issues of sexual harassment and discrimination that need to be tightly policed — whether involving homosexuals or heterosexuals.

One of the adaptations the military has made is to allow women into most billets but not into tight-knit combat formations — nuclear submarine crews or infantry squads. They live in close quarters and often-unpleasant conditions where privacy is nonexistent and trust and esprit de corps are all-important. I remember discussing the issue last year with a Special Forces team deployed in the field and was struck by the unanimity of opinion against lifting the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The special operators were horrified at the thought of gays in their ranks. This may be rank prejudice, and perhaps the result of ignorance, since there are already probably some gays in their midst. But the attitude still exists and higher authority can tamper with the policy only at the risk of causing a drop in morale.

Special Forces is one of the areas in which women are still not allowed to serve even though most jobs in the military have been opened to them. Why not simply extend to gays the same policy applied to women? That is, let gays serve openly in most billets but not in a few combat designations. It seems like a reasonable compromise.

The only question is, will America’s new policy be a common-sense one, as stated above, or will political correctness be our guiding star, with gay soldiers placed in every position in the name of “equality”?


Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College.  He also blogs at the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.

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