dear mr. president

The Joint Chiefs Chairman Who Supported + Implemented DADT In 1993 Has, 17 Years Later, Called For Its Repeal

As New York’s Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand works overtime to defend her Senate seat from Harold Ford Jr., she’s also remaining in the lead of the fight for gay equality, including killing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Her latest trump card? A statement from retired General John Shalikashvili — Bill Clinton’s Joint Chiefs chairman who helped install Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — on the day Obama is expected to address the nation about the policy.

Shalikashvili, 73, has spent years making amends, of sorts, for pushing the policy. In 2007, in a Times op-ed titled “Second Thoughts on Gays in the Military,” the decorated Army man defended his support for DADT at the time, but called for “serious reconsideration” of the policy. In June 2009, five months after Obama took office, he penned a Washington Post op-ed titled “Gays in the Military: Let the Evidence Speak,” and maintained “a policy change is inevitable,” but prefaced it with, “the proper timing of repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ remains uncertain.”

And now, via Gillibrand’s office, the most definitive statement yet: “As a nation built on the principle of equality, we should recognize and welcome change that will build a stronger more cohesive military. It is time to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and allow our military leaders to create policy that holds our service members to a single standard of conduct and discipline.”

With so many years between this moment and when his military service ended — he retired in 1997, after serving in the Army for 38 years — it might be easier for Shalikashvili to see, from both inside and outside the military, why DADT must go, while officers currently serving are having a harder time reconciling with the possibility of letting openly gay American troops protect their country. But his message could not come a moment too soon, on the eve (or rather, the day) of the president’s first State of the Union speech.