Joint Chiefs: Wait on DADT Repeal

In a surprising 11th hour development, the Joint Chiefs are insisting Congress hold its horses on allowing gays to serve openly in the U.S. military.  The Hill‘s Eric Zimmerman (“Joint Chiefs, McCain oppose ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ compromise“):

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is circulating a letter from the Joint Chiefs of Staff opposing the plan to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Under the reported compromise agreed to by the White House and congressional leaders, Congress could vote this week to repeal the policy, but the changes would only be implemented after the Pentagon finishes a study on how to implement the new policy. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would have to sign off on the deal.

But in a letter to McCain, the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines urged Congress to hold off voting until the study is done.

Weekly Standard‘s John McCormack (“Chiefs of Navy, Army, Air Force, and Marines Oppose DADT Repeal“):

The heads of the Army, Marines, Air Force, and Navy oppose the current amendment to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Senator John McCain’s office just released letters from the chiefs of the armed services, as well as a statement from the senator urging Congress to let the military complete its study before taking legislative action.

“I cannot over emphasize the importance of completing the comprehensive review prior to taking any legislative action,” says McCain. “Our military is currently engaged in two wars and we need to have a true assessment of the impact of repealing ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ on battlefield effectiveness prior to taking any legislative action. We must remain focused on what is in the best interest of our service men and women and not simply fulfill a campaign promise.”

Here’s the key text of the Chiefs’ letters.  Boldface by Wonk Room‘s Igor Volsky:

G. ROUGHEAD, CHIEF OF NAVAL OPERATIONS: “My concern is that legislative changes at this point, regardless of the precise language used, may cause confusion on the status of the law in the Fleet and disrupt the review process itself by leading Sailors to question whether their input matters.”

JAMES T. CONWAY, COMMANDANT OF MARINE CORPS: “I encourage Congress to let the process the Secretary of Defense created to run its course. Collectively, we must use logical and pragmatic decisions about the long-term policies of our Armed Forces.”

NORTON SCHWARTZ, CHIEF OF STAFF (USAF): “I believe it is important, a matter of keeping faith with those currently serving in the Armed Forces, and the Secretary of Defense commissioned review be completed before there is any legislation to repeal the DA/DT law…To do otherwise, in my view, would be presumptive and would reflect an intent to act before all relevant factors are assessed digested and understood.”

GEORGE CASEY, CHIEF OF STAFF (ARMY): “I also believe that repealing the law before the completion of the review will be seen by the men and women of the Army as a reversal of our commitment to hear their views before moving forward.”

But, as Volksy points out, the compromise bill specifically states that no change would go into effect until the study is released!  Presumably, the Chiefs fear that the survey will yield surprising results that bolster the case for maintaining the status quo and put Congress in an awkward position.

My guess is that the Chiefs win this round, since key Democrats like Virginia’s Jim Webb are carrying the water for the “wait and see” option, but lose the battle, in that the survey will show that full integration of gays into the military can be managed and the policy gets overturned in short order.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. anjin-san says:

    Now would be a good time to remind the joint chiefs that the military is under civilian control.

    That McCain supports discrimination is no real surprise. He has pretty much prostrated himself at Rush Limbaug’s feet these days.