Some inside the Pentagon are taken aback by the enthusiasm Adm. Mike, Mullen, Joint Chiefs chairman, has exhibited in pushing for repeal of the ban on open gays in the ranks.
The concern is based in part on the fact Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress they want the ban repealed — yet they do not know what affect this sweeping social change will have on force readiness and morale. My sources say they cannot recall a time when the two highest ranking military officials endorsed a major policy change without knowing its impact.
Mullen told the House Armed Services Committee, "I do not know what the impact will be and I do not know what the implementation requirements will be and I need to understand that."
Gates added, "We just don’t know the facts."
There is speculation over what this might mean for the on-going search for the next Marine Corps commandant and Joint Chiefs member. Gen. James T. Conway will complete his four-year stint this fall, meaning it will be his successor who is called to testify once a Pentagon study on gays in the military is completed Dec. 1.
It is not just Mullen’s February Senate testimony that has some conservatives worried. It is also his use of service members as props at a media availability, question-and-answer, with U.S. service members in Jordan. There, he put military members on the spot by asking them about the ban as sympathetic reporters looked on.
Mullen has positioned himself more anti-ban than Gates, who used more measured words to endorse repeal of a 1993 law signed by former President Clinton. Mullen repeated some of the talking points of the gay rights movement to end a policy known as "don’t ask, don’t tell."
Here is what Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee:
"Mr. Chairman, speaking for myself and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do. No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me personally, it comes down to integrity—theirs as individuals and ours as an institution. I also believe that the great young men and women of our military can and would accommodate such a change. I never underestimate their ability to adapt."
Here is Gates’ principal statement:
"I fully support the President’s decision. The question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change but how we best prepare for it. We have received our orders from the commander in chief and we are moving out accordingly. However we can also take this process only so far, as the ultimate decision rests with you, the Congress."
Gates was clearly less emotional, and more matter-of-fact in his endorsement.
Later, on the House side, the defense secretary was even more measured. Some staff thought he was trying to dampen Mullen’s enthusiasm.
"The Department of Defense is the biggest, most complex organization in the world," Gates said. "Our military culture is one of our greatest strengths, but it’s also a strong culture. And so we need to work with people. We need to get their input into how to go about this…. This is not an excuse for delay. This is in fact a way to do this right and a way that it works, and that we mitigate or minimize negative consequences. I think rushing into it, mandating it by fiat with a very short timeline would be a serious mistake. "
A new worry for conservatives is the next Marine commandant. The current one, Conway, has emerged has the most forceful advocate of keeping "don’t ask, don’t tell" both inside the building, and out.
He argued in the "tank," the Joint Chiefs’ inner sanctum, that changing now, especially with a stressed force fighting two wars, would damage unit morale and cohesion. Conway was the only one of the four service chiefs to voice his opposition in congressional testimony. Gen. George Casey, the Army chief, came close, testifying he had serious concerns about open gays affects on the force.
Conway’s four-year stint ends in November, before the Gates-ordered study is completed, and perhaps before Congress votes on repeal. If the Gates-Mullen selection process requires pro-repeal commandant, conservatives will have lost their best advocate.
Conway was joined in opposition from a fellow four-star Marine who retired as a NATO commander in 1997.
Gen. John Sheehan said something in open testimony many do not dare say: Europe’s armies have become less effective since embracing social changes and allowing open gays to serve.
Here is what Sheehan told the Senate Armed Services Committee:
"The European militaries today are a product of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nations like Belgium, Luxembourg, the Dutch, et cetera, firmly believed there was no longer a need for an active combat capability in their militaries. As a result, they declared a peace dividend and made a conscious effort to socialize their military. That included the unionization of their militaries.
"It included open homosexuality, demonstrated in a series of other activities, with a focus on peacekeeping operations because they did not believe the Germans were going to attack again or the Soviets were coming back.
"That led to a force that was ill-equipped to go to war. The case in point that I’m referring to is when the Dutch were required to defend Srebrenica against the Serbs. The battalion was under-strength, poorly led, and the Serbs came into town, handcuffed the soldiers to the telephone polls, marched the Muslims off and executed them. That was the largest massacre in Europe since World War II."
Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D.-Mich.) and a leading pro-repeal senator, took offense. He asked Sheehan if the Dutch told him that.
Yes, Sheehan answered, he was told that by the then-Dutch Army chief. "The combination was the liberalization of the military, a net effect of basically social engineering," he said.
When Levin tried to get Sheehan to say open gays would help the total force, the retired combat veteran said the military is not an instrument for experimentation.
He recalled that during the "Great Society," the military was ordered to accept less-quality recruits.
"We were told that this was going to help out combat strength, combat deployable strength. It didn’t," Sheehan said. "It did just the opposite. It drove people out. So I think the burden has to be on demonstrating that something is going to become better, not hoping that it’ll become something better."