How Congress was duped into re­peal­ing mil­i­tary gay ban

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

One of the more sor­did mo­ments in re­cent con­gres­sional his­tory came dur­ing De­cem­ber’s lame­duck session. Demo­cratic ma­jori­ties on both sides of Capi­tol Hill rammed through a con­tro­ver­sial re­peal of the 1993 statute (wrongly de­scribed as “don’t ask, don’t tell”) that pro­hib­ited avowed ho­mo­sex­u­als from serv­ing in the armed forces.

The Se­nate and House lead­er­ship did so with scarcely any hear­ings and ex­tremely lim­ited op­por­tu­nity for de­bate. This ac­tion amounted to a raw abuse of power, a last gasp by an Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion able and de­ter­mined to ap­pease ho­mo­sex­ual ac­tivists — a key po­lit­i­cal con­stituency — be­fore the set­backs of Novem­ber’s elec­tions made do­ing so vastly more dif­fi­cult.

We now know, how­ever, that it was a gam­bit made pos­si­ble by de­lib­er­ate ef­forts by se­nior ex­ec­u­tive branch of­fi­cials to mis­lead Congress into tak­ing a step that the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s own sur­veys had es­tab­lished would be deeply in­ju­ri­ous to the U.S. mil­i­tary. Thanks to the re­lease of a pre­vi­ously undis­closed De­fense Depart­ment in­spec­tor gen­eral’s (IG) in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­port, re­cently an­a­lyzed by the in­valu­able Cen­ter for Mil­i­tary Readi­ness (CMR), leg­is­la­tors have the prover­bial “smok­ing gun” re- veal­ing po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated mis­con­duct at the high­est lev­els of gov­ern­ment.

Ev­i­dently, this mis­con­duct was deemed nec­es­sary be­cause, even with con­trol of both the House and Se­nate in friendly hands, Pres­i­dent Obama re­quired Repub­li­can votes in the up­per cham­ber to se­cure pas­sage of his re­peal ini­tia­tive. In or­der to garner the sup­port of swing GOP sen­a­tors, they would have to be given po­lit­i­cal cover on a key ques­tion: How would the mil­i­tary re­spond to such a dra­matic change in its tra­di­tions, cul­ture and code of con­duct?

The IG re­port makes clear that a skewed re­sponse was man­u­fac­tured and leaked to friendly jour­nal­ists by top Pen­tagon and White House of­fi­cials. Specif­i­cally, an ex­ec­u­tive sum­mary of a De­fense Depart­ment sur­vey was writ­ten by the depart­ment’s gen­eral coun­sel, Jeh C. John­son, be­fore the sur­vey was even be­gun on July 7, 2010. It prompted one re­viewer — a “for­mer news an­chor” whom Mr. John­son al­lowed to see his draft over the July Fourth week­end — to tell the IG he was “struck by how many mem­bers of the United States Armed Ser­vices thought this was just fine.”

The sit­u­a­tion in­ten­si­fied fur­ther in Novem­ber 2010 af­ter Mr. John­son briefed five top White House of­fi­cials about the find­ings of the so-called Com­pre­hen­sive Re­view Work­ing Group (CRWG) — a Pen­tagon task force on the gays-in-themil­i­tary is­sue that he cochaired. The CRWG had, in the in­ter­val, con­ducted the sur­vey of about 400,000 ser­vice­men and -women, held scores of town-hall-style meet­ings around the world and com­piled a 300-plus page re­port.

Among the five pres­i­den­tial aides iden­ti­fied but not in­ter­viewed by the in­spec­tor gen­eral was James Messina. At the time, Mr. Messina was Mr. Obama’s deputy chief of staff, and his port­fo­lio in­cluded serv­ing as “li­ai­son” to gay ac­tivists and their com­mu­nity. In­ter­est­ingly, one prom­i­nent ho­mo­sex­ual group leader has de­scribed Mr. Messina as an “un­sung hero” in the cam­paign to re­peal the 1993 law.

The in­spec­tor gen­eral’s re­port nonethe­less sug­gested that “the pri­mary source of the in­for­ma­tion was some­one who had a strongly emo­tional at­tach­ment to the is­sue” and “care­fully dis­closed spe­cific sur­vey data to sup­port a pro-re­peal agenda.”

Specif­i­cally, that source pro­vided to sym­pa­thetic jour­nal­ists at The Wash­ing­ton Post a find­ing that 70 per­cent of those in uni­form thought it would be no prob­lem to have avowed ho­mo­sex­u­als in the ranks. Im­por­tantly, the IG re­port noted how per­cent­ages in this find­ing could have been pre­sented to sup­port the op­po­site con­clu­sion.

The IG went on to say: “We con­sider it likely that the pri­mary source dis­closed con­tent from the draft Re­port with the in­tent to shape a pro-re­peal per­cep­tion of the draft Re­port prior to its re­lease to gain mo­men­tum in sup­port of a leg­isla­tive change dur­ing the ‘lame duck’ session of Congress fol­low­ing the Nov. 2, 2010, elec­tions.”

In other words, leg­is­la­tors were mis­led by this se­lec­tive — and end­lessly re­peated — dis­tor­tion of the work­ing group’s find­ings into ig­nor­ing some of its other, un­pub­li­cized and deeply trou­bling con­clu­sions. These in­cluded a sin­gle sen­tence buried on Page 49 of the CRWG re­port: “Our sense is that the ma­jor­ity of views ex­pressed were against re­peal.”

More­over, as CMR’s Elaine Don­nelly points out, the work­ing group also found: “Nearly 60 per­cent of re­spon­dents in the Marine Corps and in Army com­bat arms said they be­lieved there would be a neg­a­tive im­pact on their unit’s ef­fec­tive­ness in this con­text; among Marine com­bat arms the num­ber was 67 per­cent.”

Ta­bles that could only be found on the CRWG sur­vey web­site also sug­gested that many in these vi­tal el­e­ments would leave sooner than planned — per­haps as many as 36 per­cent in the Army and 48 per­cent in the Marines.

As Mrs. Don­nelly puts it in an anal­y­sis of the in­spec­tor gen­eral’s re­port, “The grad­ual loss of even half as many com­bat troops and what the re­port de­scribed as ‘only 12 per­cent’ of fam­i­lies likely to de­cline reen­list­ment could put re­main­ing troops in greater dan­ger, and even­tu­ally break the All-Vol­un­teer Force.”

Even be­fore the IG-sup­plied smok­ing gun, leg­is­la­tors in the cur­rent Congress — in­clud­ing mem­bers of the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee led by Chair­man Howard P. “Buck” McKeon and Reps. Dun­can Hunter and Joe Wil­son — have been warn­ing that the U.S. mil­i­tary is sim­ply not ready to have the gay ac­tivists’ so­cial ex­per­i­ment im­posed upon it. Cer­ti­fi­ca­tions to the con­trary by the out­go­ing sec­re­tary of de­fense, soon-to-de­part chair­man of the Joint Chiefs and the pres­i­dent would com­pound the trav­esty of De­cem­ber’s abuse of power and must not hap­pen, es­pe­cially now that the true char­ac­ter of that outrageous gam­bit is pub­lic knowl­edge.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is pres­i­dent of the Cen­ter for Se­cu­rity Pol­icy (Se­cureFree­, and a colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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