Don't Tell Hell

The Guy In Charge of Advising Obama on the Military Recommends: Forget About DADT

The Obama administration has been having a little problem with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. President Obama says he wants to repeal the law, but he’s done nothing to actually show it. The Pentagon says it’s got no plans to even review DADT’s repeal, but then was forced to amend its statement when it was reminded that, hey, that conflicts with Obama’s official stance. So when Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, hit the weekend talk show circuit, we didn’t know what to expect. And then Adm. Mullen showed his cards:

Nope, the armed services still really does not have any plans to repeat DADT. Mullen uses words liked “measured” and “deliberate” and talks about how “we’re in our sixth year of fighting two wars” and how he wants to “avoid a polarizing debate that puts a force that’s very significantly under stress in the middle.” And the kicker? “We follow the law, and if the law changes, we’ll comply,” which is about as passive a statement you can spit out on this.

There’s no definitive statement that DADT will not be repealed in the near future; Mullen is careful to follow directions not to own up to that. But just about everything else he says makes clear there is a “measured” and “deliberate” approach to telling the media to STFU about all this, that it’s a non-issue, and that Obama will one day get around to it.

Congratulations, military gays! You’ve once again received your answer as to whether you’ll be able to serve openly and proudly any time soon.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me talk about the issues of gays in the military. The president has told you that he wants to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy so that gays and lesbians can serve openly in the military. And the Pentagon said this week that you personally, along with Secretary Gates, are working to address the challenges associated with implementing the president’s commitment.

What exactly are you doing? And what exactly are you worried about?

MULLEN: The president has made his strategic intent very clear. That it’s his intent at some point in time to ask Congress to change this law. I think it’s important to also know that this is the law, this isn’t a policy. And for the rules to change, a law has to be changed.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And there’s legislation introduced in the Congress.

MULLEN: And there is. Exactly. And so I’ve had discussions with the Joint Chiefs about this. I’ve done certainly a lot of internal, immediate staff discussions about what the issues would be and how we…

STEPHANOPOULOS: What are they? What are the challenges?

MULLEN: Well, it’s my job as the senior military adviser to provide best advice, best military advice for the president. And what I owe him is an objective assessment of what these changes would be. What they might impact on. And there could be speculation about what that might be, but my goal would be to achieve an objective assessment of the impact, if any, of this kind of change.

In addition, you know, I would need some time for a force that’s under a great deal of stress — we’re in our sixth year of fighting two wars — to look at if this change occurs, to look at implementing it in a very deliberate, measured way.

And what I also owe the president, and I owe the men and women in uniform, is an implementation plan to achieve this based on a timeline that would be set, obviously, after the law is changed.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One of your predecessors, General John Shalikashvili, who was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs back in the early ’90s, has said he has second thoughts on this whole issue now. He was against opening up service to the gays and lesbians then. Now he’s written, “I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces. Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job.”

Is he right?

MULLEN: He’s certainly entitled to his own personal opinion. And certainly, I have the greatest respect for him.

There are also lots of retired generals and admirals on the other side. STEPHANOPOULOS: What’s your opinion?

MULLEN: And what I would hope to do in this, George, again, given the strategic intent of the president, is to avoid a polarizing debate that puts a force that’s very significantly under stress in the middle. And to get this, get to this, assuming the law is going to change, and, again, a measured, deliberate way. And that, as the senior military leader, is what I consider my principal responsibility.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Measured, deliberate way. So it sounds like if the Congress calls you up to testify in this, you’re going to say now is not the time to repeal?

MULLEN: No, I actually — I’m going to talk to the process that we have in this country, which is we follow the law, and if the law changes, we’ll comply. There’s absolutely no question about that.