November 1, 2010  

Don’t make it worse

TO THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION for its confused and confusing response to court actions overturning “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

After California District Court Judge Virginia Phillips overturned the ban on gays serving openly in the military, saying it was unconstitutional, the Justice Department first dithered and then appealed the ruling.

In turn, the Pentagon jumped the gun and proceeded as if Phillips’ ruling was final, ordering a halt to all “don’t ask” investigations and proceedings and announcing that recruiters could sign up openly gay men and women. It then had to reverse course when, just days later, an appellate panel issued a stay of the original ruling.

The ruling highlights an awkward truth. On the one hand, the ruling solves a problem for President Obama, who has been unable to deliver on a campaign promise to overturn “don’t ask, don’t tell.” On the other hand, the ruling challenges the president’s authority and that of Congress to control the actions of the military.

Most worrisome, however, is the lack of coordination across the Department of Justice and the Pentagon, which undermines Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ efforts to complete a survey of the force and prepare service leaders with the insights they will need if and when “don’t ask” is repealed.

Given the uncertainty generated by these legal actions, Gates was right to direct that authority for any discharges under the law should reside with service secretaries. More clear thinking and calm consideration are critical going forward.