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Obama ‘Fires’ Gay Arabic Linguist

UCSB political scientist Aaron Belkins‘ HuffPo piece “Obama To Fire His First Gay Arabic Linguist” has drawn quite a bit of blogospheric attention.

Dan Choi, a West Point graduate and officer in the Army National Guard who is fluent in Arabic and who returned recently from Iraq, received notice today that the military is about to fire him. Why? Because he came out of the closet as a gay man on national television.

[…]

I spent a day with Dan Choi last month, and he is not someone we want to fire from the military. He loves the armed forces. He served bravely under tough combat conditions in Iraq. His Arabic is excellent, and he used his language skills to diffuse many tough situations and to save lives, both Iraqi and American. All of his unit mates know he is gay, and they have been very supportive of him. But he doesn’t want to live a lie.

Belkins anticipates my rejoinder:

Some readers might think it unfair to blame Obama. After all, the president inherited the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law when he took office. As Commander-in-Chief, he has to follow the law. If the law says that the military must fire any service member who acknowledges being gay, that is not Obama’s fault.

He responds:

A new study, about to be published by a group of experts in military law, shows that President Obama does, in fact, have stroke-of-the-pen authority to suspend gay discharges. The “don’t ask, don’t tell” law requires the military to fire anyone found to be gay or lesbian. But there is nothing requiring the military to make such a finding. The president can simply order the military to stop investigating service members’ sexuality.

An executive order would not get rid of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, but would take the critical step of suspending its implementation, hence rendering it effectively dead. Once people see gays and lesbians serving openly, legally and without problems, it will be much easier to get rid of the law at a later time.

I know a little something about military law but am by no means an expert.  But homosexual conduct by members of the Armed Services is manifestly proscribed by federal law, the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  The procedures are clear.  It’s true that the current implementation, the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, was implemented under Bill Clinton. It is not, however, a mere executive order — and thus subject to the whim of his successors — but rather black letter statutory law (Pub.L. 103-160 [10 U.S.C. § 654].).
By announcing that he’s gay on national television, Choi gave his commanders little choice but to investigate.  (Simply “being” gay isn’t a violation of UCMJ; it has to manifest by “conduct.”)

Regardless, it’s absurd to claim that Obama “fired” Choi.  That’s a decision made echelons down the chain of command and, again, one that was a fait accompli once Choi made his announcement. Further, for Obama to order the military to stop following black letter law might take “guts” but it would create a minor Constitutional crisis. Failing to break the law isn’t “cowardly.”

It is, however, perfectly fair to blame Obama for not having taken action to overturn existing law, as Matt Corley, GayPatriotWest, and Andrew Sullivan do.  But that’s what he needs to do:  Burn political capital and use his extraordinary popularity and huge Democratic margins in Congress to change the law rather than flouting it.  Is my memory faulty or were Democrats recently opposed to presidents ignoring laws they found inconvenient?

Obama, reasonably enough, wants to avoid Clinton’s mistake of dealing with this issue right out of the gate.  It’s politically charged, will generate tremendous opposition from retired generals and other veterans, and will be a distraction from more pressing issues.   Then again, as Matt Yglesias points out, “The fact of the matter is that on any given week, it’ll be more convenient to deal with this issue next week. But that just means you never get around to dealing with it.”

UPDATE: Upon re-reading the law, there may be a workaround more in keeping with Congress’ intent than simply ordering a suspension of investigations.  Again, IANAL, but the only loophole I see in the law is (e)(2), which provides that “Nothing in subsection (b) shall be construed to require that a member of the armed forces be processed for separation from the armed forces when a determination is made in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Defense that . . . separation of the member would not be in the best interest of the armed forces.”  The only problem with this, really, is that adopting a broad policy of “the law is silly, so we’ll deem all enforcement to be against the best interests of the armed forces” is that it would be in clear contravention of the “Findings” that serve as the law’s preamble.

UPDATE IIGlenn Reynolds quips, “You know, if someone asked me to go hire a a gay Arabic linguist, I wouldn’t know where to start. But the federal government seems to be firing them every time I turn around.”  A clever entrepreneur could likely put 2 and 2 together and start a service.

UPDATE III (Dodd): It’s true that we cannot countenance “a broad policy of ‘the law is silly, so we’ll deem all enforcement to be against the best interests of the armed forces'”. But what we can — and I think should — do is implement a policy that, all other things being equal, it is not “in the best interest of the armed forces” to summarily discharge service members with crucial skills (like, just to take an example totally at random, Arabic language skills) merely because they are gay. A review process that weighs the individual’s value to the overall mission would be in keeping with (e)(2).

Video via AllahPundit.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. markm says:

    suspend gay discharges

    ick.

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  2. Bithead says:

    LOL@Mark.

    Let’s consider a practical aspect of this. Even absent the political implications here in the west, an openly homosexual translator, doesn’t seem like it would go over well in the Arab world, given their cultural weighting on the subject of homosexuality.

    We are told that we must respect their cultures to make any headway with them and understand and acquiesce to their culural wishes. (The sight of Nancy Pelosi wearing a Muslim inspired head covering leaps to mind) Is Homosexuality the one place where this cultural respect is given a pass by liberals, I wonder?

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  3. Mike P says:

    Just so we don’t stray too far afield here, let’s recall that Laura Bush wore a headscarf, too.

    Now, let the liberal bashing continue apace.

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  4. UlyssesUnbound says:

    an openly homosexual translator, doesn’t seem like it would go over well in the Arab world

    Bithead,

    It seems to me the article never states where Lt. Choi was stationed. Unless he was stationed in a Muslim country where his presence as a gay representative of the U.S. could cause some cultural problems, your argument is moot. There are plenty of Arabic linguists and translators working for intelligence that are not stationed in such countries.

    It does say he was once stationed in Iraq, but makes no indication that was the case when he was discharged.

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  5. Billy says:

    Once again, Bithead demonstrates his profound inability to understand the most basic of facts. To illustrate, I have the privilege of being the best man in a wedding between two (heterosexual) arabic translators for the military this summer. After graduating from DLI, he was indeed stationed in Iraq for a couple of tours, while she, for the entirety of her career thus far, has been stationed in Germany, along with a number of other translators. Yes, they have plenty of work that doesn’t involve being on the ground. In any case, even translators on the ground often deploy to listen rather than speak, which often entails not revealing the fact that they understand the language.

    Please explain how a servicemember’s sexuality would impact any of these alternate roles.

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  6. KVC says:

    I have a few questions, why was this guy on TV telling everyone he was gay? Was he pushing an agenda? What did he expect to happen? If everyone in the unit knew he was gay where was this lie he was living? Yes, the gays expect to get the free pass because they are the “cause du jour.”

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  7. Bithead says:

    It seems to me the article never states where Lt. Choi was stationed. Unless he was stationed in a Muslim country where his presence as a gay representative of the U.S. could cause some cultural problems, your argument is moot

    Oh, quite so. Yet, in the current world situation, it would seem to me likely that given his stated skillset, he would be in theatre at some point. And Billy, that fact apparently got by you, eh?

    KVC also raises an interesting point. Clearly some political hay was being made, here. And guess what? With that now being in the public eye, his usefulness in some under-cover situation, such as what Billy suggests, would seem at best limited.

    What is happening here is that Obama is under increasing pressure from homosexual advocates as has been noted several palces in the rpess and the sphere yesterday. This is merely one of many such.

    And my question about respecting Muslim culture stands.

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  8. Bithead says:

    Let’s see…. would we make use of a known Nazi as a German translator?

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  9. PD Shaw says:

    Interesting James. The law you point to seems to authorize the President to suspend the rule on an individualized basis. It doesn’t authorize blanket suspension of the rule, but suspending it as applied to a “member.” But it also requires that the suspension be according to military regulations, so we would have to look at these to determine how it would need to play out.

    I personally believe don’t ask, don’t tell can have no Constitutional force on the battlefield, because it conflicts with the executive’s authority to direct the ways and means of battle. But once we get away from the exigencies of battle, that argument dissipates.

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  10. […] from the militant fascist gay-activist community on this? C’mon Perez Hilton. President Obama has just discharged an Army lieutenant for going on the air and coming out of the closet and admitting that he’s […]

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  11. Phil Smith says:

    Again, IANAL

    DADT.

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  12. Jerry says:

    I do not understand what the great fear is when it comes to gay translators.

    Is it assumed that they will be inserting references to the “gay agenda” into their translations or that they will use too “flowery” language?

    Who is really afraid of them, our arabic/muslim “allies” or our own countrymen and women who go into hysterics about “teh gay”?

    If it is supposed to come down to our not wanting to offend the sensibilities of our allies, I say offend away in this case. Currently in Iraq there are apparently death squads (with government support) that are targeting gays using horrific methods to cause slow agonizing deaths.

    The faster we get out of that country and let them handle their own problems the better.

    As a gay american, I am conflicted about Mr Choi’s joining the military. I am not sure I would want to join an organization that perceives me as totally and utterly undesirable but I can also understand his love for this country and his desire to serve it.

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  13. Bithead says:

    I do not understand what the great fear is when it comes to gay translators.

    Is it assumed that they will be inserting references to the “gay agenda” into their translations or that they will use too “flowery” language?

    For my part, the point I was making was their very presence offending the Arabs, not what they’d SAY, per se’.

    If it is supposed to come down to our not wanting to offend the sensibilities of our allies, I say offend away in this case.

    And there’s the answer to my question; Because homosexuality is involved, the overt concern for ‘respecting their culture’ doesn’t quite rate as high. How very Sullivanesque of you. Thanks for proving my point.

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  14. Jerry says:

    bithead :

    And there’s the answer to my question; Because homosexuality is involved, the overt concern for ‘respecting their culture’ doesn’t quite rate as high. How very Sullivanesque of you. Thanks for proving my point.

    I have no need or desire to prove any point to you.

    BUT

    You wrote

    Is Homosexuality the one place where this cultural respect is given a pass by liberals, I wonder?

    So to that, I will respond NO it is not the only issue that this cultural liberal gives a pass to. Because I do not give it a pass.

    (Upon reflection, your question is very close to the construction of “have you stopped beating your wife yet”, you get to call GOTCHA on any response)

    I reject totally any culture that forces women to completely cover themselves head to toe, any culture that thinks it is totally acceptable to throw acid in young schoolgirls’ faces, any culture that thinks it is acceptable to strap on a bomb and blow up people going about their lives peaceably. Do you?

    This posting was about a gay american soldier’s discharge, not about all aspects of a culture, so I did not feel it necessary to list everything I might find objectionable.

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  15. Bithead says:

    I have no need or desire to prove any point to you.

    Of course not. Which is doubtless why you’ve written the longest message in this thread to respond to the thrust of my argument. But, pray, continue.

    I reject totally any culture that forces women to completely cover themselves head to toe, any culture that thinks it is totally acceptable to throw acid in young schoolgirls’ faces, any culture that thinks it is acceptable to strap on a bomb and blow up people going about their lives peaceably. Do you?

    As it happens, I agree with you in this, at least, but my position on their culture is beside the point, given that the comparison was between the left’s cries of ‘cultural respect’ and the actions they take when one of their core groups is offended. It’s that comparison that gives lie to the ‘cultural respect’ line we’ve been fed by the apologists, and the anti-war types.

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  16. […] other Cultures: James Joyner: UCSB political scientist Aaron Belkins‘ HuffPo piece “Obama To Fire His First Gay Arabic […]

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  17. dutchmarbel says:

    I think that quite a few female soldiers might be very relieved if they had more gay collegues:

    According to several studies of the US military funded by the Department of Veteran Affairs, 30% of military women are raped while serving, 71% are sexually assaulted, and 90% are sexually harassed.

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  18. James Joyner says:

    According to several studies of the US military funded by the Department of Veteran Affairs, 30% of military women are raped while serving, 71% are sexually assaulted, and 90% are sexually harassed.

    Do you find those numbers even roughly plausible? I’m guessing they’re off by an order of magnitude.

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  19. dutchmarbel says:

    Well, I think that sexually harassed included being called names and I (personally) wouldn’t take that too seriously.

    But the assaults and rapes wouldn’t suprise me. Ever since the latest invasion of Iraq I have seen regularly seen stories about raped soldiers and suspicious deaths like LaVena Johnson. Stories going from 9% rapes for female marines in 1996 to 29% of female vets being raped in 2008 and a lot more stories in the years between.

    But I probabely read a lot more female oriented blogs than you do.

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  20. An Interested Party says:

    Yes, the gays expect to get the free pass because they are the “cause du jour.”

    No, actually they merely want the same rights that heterosexuals have, but to some people, I guess that is too much to ask for…

    As for all this talk about respecting different cultures…how would someone in one of these countries know for certain (and be offended) by a homosexual translator (unless he/she was openly prancing around and flaunting his/her sexuality)?

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  21. Gustopher says:

    We station female soldiers in Arab countries, and it’s a lot easier to tell that someone is female than gay. So, I think that the “think of the local customs” argument is just nonsense.

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  22. Bithead says:

    There is a major difference between deploying a soldier who will involved in fighting or support roles, versus deploying a translator who will be involved in intercultural negotiations. A civil affairs unit, for example.

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  23. An Interested Party says:

    Once again…unless said translator is blatantly obvious, how will anyone in these other countries know that he/she is gay and, therefore, be offended…

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  24. […] Sullivan gives Quote For the Day honors to gay Army 1st Lieutenant Dan Choi for this excerpt from his Open Letter to President Obama and Every Member of Congress: I have […]

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