Monday, December 10, 2007

‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Poses Clintonian Catch-22 for GOP Hopefuls

Imagine a stage full of Republican presidential candidates standing underneath the national spotlight and agreeing with one another. Better yet, try imagining all of them agreeing with former President Bill Clinton.

CNN and YouTube helped make this scenario a reality Nov. 28 when the two hooked up and hosted a Republican presidential debate. Just two days before the 14th anniversary of the enactment of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) law that prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, the candidates were asked to tell what they thought about the law.

During the debate, retired Brigadier Gen. Keith Kerr asked: “I want to know why you think that American men and women in uniform are not professional enough to serve with gays and lesbians.” Kerr, a Santa Rosa, Calif., native, served in the armed forces for 43 years, and, without being asked, told the audience that he’s an openly gay man.

Now the catch. The candidates could either agree with President Clinton’s initiative, or disagree with DADT, which implicitly supports Sen. Hillary Clinton’s stance. Sen. Clinton says the “outdated and outmoded” and should be repealed. Either way, the GOP hopefuls still end up agreeing with a Clinton, a major political faux pas in the Republican Party.

The plot thickens. It turns out Kerr had been named a co-chairman of Hillary Clinton’s National Military Veterans group. After the debate, Kerr told CNN that he had not done work for the Clinton campaign. CNN claimed that Kerr told them he is a member of the Log Cabin Republicans and was representing no one other than himself. The day after the debate, Clinton campaign spokesman Phil Singer said the retired general "is not a campaign employee and was not acting on behalf of the campaign."

Regardless of who Kerr was representing, the question had been asked and who asked it does not negate the question itself. The same question was asked at a Republican presidential debate in June. However, despite the legitimacy of Kerr’s question, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, who moderated the debate, felt compelled to apologize to the Republican candidates. “We never would have used the general's question had we known that he was connected to any presidential candidate."

True, there are some ethical issues to consider about the process of how the question was asked, but this merely serves as a distraction to how the candidates responded (see video below).

California Rep. Duncan Hunter took first swing at DADT and played the Colin Powell card, who Hunter quoted as saying that “having openly homosexual people serving in the ranks would be bad for unit cohesion.” However, nearly three in four troops (73 percent) say they are personally comfortable in the presence of gays and lesbians (Zogby International & the Michael D. Palm Center 2006 study).

Hunter, a military veteran, attempted to defend DADT with the unit-cohesion fallacy, while simultaneously negating the notion that 23 of the other 26 NATO countries are open to gays serving in the military. “Even though people point to the Israelis and point to the Brits and point to other people as having homosexuals serve, is that most Americans, most kids who leave that breakfast table and go out and serve in the military and make that corporate decision with their family, most of them are conservatives,” Hunter argued. “They have conservative values, and they have Judeo-Christian values. To force those people to work in a small tight unit with somebody who is openly homosexual goes against what they believe to be their principles, and it is their principles, is I think a disservice to them.”

Is Hunter suggesting the military segregate soldiers based on ideology to maintain unit cohesion? The military has a history of being one of the first governmental institutions to implement desegregation policies, yet Hunter wants to reverse this trend, which his fellow Republican President Harry S. Truman initiated in 1950.

In an attempt to appeal to his conservative base, Hunter opened up a new can of discrimination against moderates and liberals serving in the military. The big question is, if elected, would Hunter expand DADT to include anyone whose ideology isn’t consistent with the conservatives?

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee echoed Hunter’s unit-cohesion stance. However, Huckabee did manage to undermine the premise underlying Hunter’s argument about protecting conservative principles. “The Uniform Code of Military Justice is probably the best rule, and it has to do with conduct. People have a right to have whatever feelings, whatever attitudes they wish,” Huckabee said. “But when their conduct could put at risk the morale, I think that's what is at issue. And that's why our policy is what it is.”

Here, Huckabee argues that it’s a homosexual’s conduct that jeopardizes morale, and by conduct I assume he’s referring to sexual conduct. However, no other soldier’s sexual conduct is put under the morality microscope, so under a Huckabee administration, soldiers who indulge in pre-marital sex or adultery are given a free pass.

Not to mention, the morale for combat troops in Iraq has already been plummeting, even with the DADT policy in place. Released in May, a Pentagon mental health study of troops in Iraq found 45 percent of junior enlisted Army soldiers rated their unit's morale as low or very low. Twenty percent of soldiers and 15 percent of Marines were found to have a mental health problem, defined as anxiety, depression or acute stress.

The report was based on data collected from some 1,300 soldiers and nearly 450 Marines in Iraq last fall. About two-thirds of those surveyed said they knew someone who had been killed or injured. More than three-quarters of soldiers and Marines said they had been in situations where they could have been killed or seriously injured.

The report also indicated 56 percent of soldiers were highly concerned about the long tours, something Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., tried to address with an amendment (S. AMDT. 2012) that would improve military readiness and require periods of down time between redeployment. The amendment was successfully filibustered by the Republicans in the Senate, much to the chagrin of Webb, a Vietnam War Veteran, who shared his disappointment on the Senate floor: "Today the Republicans decided to filibuster an amendment that goes straight to the well-being of our troops. I deeply regret this move. They expect us to take the sort of positive action that might stabilize the operational environment in which are troops are being sent again and again.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Arizona Sen. John McCain borrowed a tactic from the current Commander in Chief George W. Bush and deferred their commander-in-chief obligations to the military leaders in the field. “I look forward to hearing from the military exactly what they believe is the right way to have the right kind of cohesion and support in our troops, and I listen to what they have to say,” Romney said.

McCain reassured the audience he has his ear to the ground in Iraq and keeps in constant contact with military leaders in the field. “Almost unanimously, they tell me that this present policy is working, that we have the best military in history, that we have the bravest, most professional, best prepared, and that this policy ought to be continued because it's working.” Even if McCain’s assertion is proven to be true, one would have to question the sources. To openly question or refute an order that was signed by someone at the top of the chain-of-command goes contrary to a soldier’s training. Military personnel are trained to follow orders, and this includes generals.

McCain’s intelligence gathering doesn’t hold the same weight with retired generals. A group of 28 retired U.S. generals and admirals released a statement Nov. 29 urging Congress to repeal the current ban on openly gay troops:

We respectfully urge Congress to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
Those of us signing this letter have dedicated our lives to defending the rights
of our citizens to believe whatever they wish. As General Colin Powell, Former
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs said when the "don't ask, don't tell" policy was
enacted, it is not the place of the military or those in senior leadership to
make moral judgments.

Scholarly data shows there are approximately one million gay and lesbian veterans in the United States today, as well as 65,000 gays and lesbians currently serving in our armed forces. They have served our nation honorably.

We support the recent comments of another former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General John Shalikashvili, who has concluded that repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy would not harm, and would indeed help our armed forces. As is the case in Britain, Israel, and other nations which allow gays and lesbians to serve openly, our service members are professionals who are able to work together effectively despite differences in race, gender, religion, and sexuality. Such collaboration reflects the strength and the best traditions of our democracy.
The post-debate dust has already settled, and the GOP candidates have resumed their silence on the issue of DADT -- at least until the general election. While they can afford to choose silence, or risk losing their conservative base, the same luxury does not hold true for the 65,000 gay soldiers still serving in the military, who have had no choice but to remain silent their entire careers under DADT.

Originally posted on "Iowa Independent"

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