Despite a campaign promise of ending “don’t ask, don’t tell,” President Obama appears to be in no hurry to end a policy that has rendered gays as second-class citizens within the U.S. military.
It’s easy to understand Obama’s caution. This is one issue he can’t win. If he jettisons “don’t ask, don’t tell,” he is certain to be accused of demoralizing the military during time of war. If he doesn’t end it, he is equally certain to be lambasted for betraying a key liberal cause.
The military has already fired the first salvoes in what promises to be a bloody struggle. In a Washington Post Op-Ed, four retired generals and admirals argued that ending the ban would harm morale, spur 200,000 soldiers to leave the military in protest, and deter thousands from enlisting in the first place. These retired commanders have been joined by a thousand more who are circulating a letter of protest.
They’re fighting a rear-guard action, but in the end, they will lose. Not least because the military itself is changing. Military analyst Andrew Exum, a platoon leader in Afghanistan and Iraq, notes that those opposing gay soldiers are the Cold War generation. The younger warriors in today’s military don’t really care about sexual orientation as long as a soldier does his or her job.
I have always considered the whole gays-in-uniform issue to be completely bogus. We will spend $534 billion on defense next year. And for all that money, all those schools and hospitals that will never be built, we will receive a military that is barely able to cope with a ragged bunch of insurgents in two Third World nations.
If the U.S. military isn’t up to the job, it’s because we buy weapons that were meant to stop Soviet tanks instead of barefoot guerrillas. It’s because the Air Force and Navy are more concerned with beating Army in the budget battle than destroying the Taliban on the field of battle. It’s because our commanders are still struggling to catch up with today’s warfare, and never mind tomorrow’s.
Two gay soldiers sharing a sleeping bag are the least of our worries. It reminds me of Clint Eastwood’s line from “Magnum Force,” when Dirty Harry is told that a bunch of sharpshooter cops are probably queer: “If the rest of you could shoot like them, I wouldn’t care if the whole damn department was queer.”