No More Excuses
John McCain has run out of reasons to block the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
With the release of the Pentagon's report on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," will Sen. John McCain and his fellow resisters man up, do the right thing, join the 21st century (as well as every other Western country), and let homosexuals openly enlist in the military?
Certainly the report's findings leave little room for continued stalling on the issue.
McCain, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said a few years ago that he would consider repealing DADT once the senior military leadership endorsed doing so. When Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did just that earlier this year, McCain said he would await the results of a Pentagon study that had been commissioned.
When the study came out on Nov. 30, concluding that repeal would carry "low" risks for any measure of military effectiveness, McCain said he needed to question the officers who actually command troops—which (with all due respect) neither Gates nor Mullen directly does—especially the service chiefs, including the commandant of the Marine Corps (who had already spoken out against repeal).
In persisting with this charade of bigotry disguised as prudence, McCain sidesteps the fact that the repeal of DADT has publicly been endorsed by his very own favorite officer, Gen. David Petraeus—who has been the commander of both the wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, that U.S. troops have been fighting lately.
Really, senator, what more is there to say?
The 257-page report—dauntingly titled "Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated With the Repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' " and written by a panel co-chaired by Jeh Charles Johnson, the Pentagon's general counsel, and Gen. Carter F. Ham, commander of the U.S. Army in Europe—makes the case that McCain and others have been demanding.
Much of the study reports and analyzes the results of a survey sent to 400,000 active-duty members of the armed services (115,052 of whom responded), as well as surveys of more than 40,000 military spouses and several workshop forums and face-to-face interviews.
The top line is that 70 percent of those surveyed say that repealing DADT—and thus working, eating, sleeping, showering, and fighting in the same room or on the same ship, plane, or battlefield with service members who say they're gay—will have a positive, a mixed, or no effect (in other words, won't have a bad effect) on accomplishing the mission.
That, of course, is not an entirely reassuring conclusion. It means that 30 percent think it will have a bad effect. In a fighting force built on unit cohesion and trust, 30 percent is a lot.
Broken down by services, the data seem more disturbing still. For instance, among members of the U.S. Marine Corps, 47 percent of respondents think repeal of DADT would have a negative effect on mutual trust within a unit. Among Marines in combat positions, the figure rises to 60 percent. (A similar pattern holds in the Army. Overall, 35 percent of Army soldiers think it would have a negative effect, while 49 percent of Army combat soldiers do.)
McCain and other critics have seized on these numbers to justify a continuation of present policy.
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.
Photograph of Robert Gates and Mike Mullen by Win McNamee/Getty Images.