February 02, 2010

More Research and Sanity, Please

I'm listening to Sec. Gates and Adm. Mullen talk about repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell on C-SPAN, and they're a breath of fresh air given the commentary that has recently surrounded the decision to repeal DADT. So far, I've been reading a lot of assumptions and assertions amidst a conspicuous absence of hard data and research. On the one hand, Bill Kristol is saying the repeal of DADT will lead to military ineffectiveness. Now, the assumption that a repeal of DADT will lead to at least a short-term drop in unit cohesiveness or effectiveness sounds like a pretty reasonable assumption, but that assumption needs to be tested. On the other hand, Sen. Levin (who, as chairman of the SASC, knows a lot more about the U.S. military than Bill Kristol) is claiming a repeal of DADT will lead to greater unit effectiveness. That actually strikes me as being a bit of a stretch, but if by that he means more Arabic/Dari/Pashto linguists, yeah, okay, that makes sense. In the same way, supporters of the repeal claim that the younger generation of military servicemen could in general care less about serving with homosexuals. And that seems like a reasonable assumption as well given the fact that all American focus groups -- Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, church-goers, atheists -- are in favor of gays being allowed to openly serve in uniform, and the younger generation of Americans is generally more comfortable with the societal normalization of homosexuality than older generations.

Gates and Mullen, though, are calling for RAND to update their 1993 study on gays in the military (.pdf), and this is the right idea. (Mullen's remarks, in particular, have been laced with much-needed humility.) We need some hard research to support or challenge everyone's assumptions. Sen. McCain -- a man I greatly admire -- is sounding a more like a senator in a tough Republican primary race here than a guy listening to the policy preference of the American people. But he is fundamentally correct when he says that a review of DADT and gays in the military should have preceded any announced shift in the policy. He is also correct when he points out that -- unlike in the 1990s -- a repeal of the ban on homosexuals in the military would now demand a change in the law by Congress. (This I learned by reading this excellent article in Joint Forces Quarterly (.pdf) that you'll be hearing senators on both sides of this debate reference.)

But this leads me to my biggest gripe about this policy shift. I don't blame the Obama Administration nearly as much as I blame foot-dragging flag officers. Last year, I sat in on an on-the-record lunchtime talk with Gen. Casey, and the chief of staff of the U.S. Army was asked a point-blank question about the repeal of DADT. Gen. Casey kinda shrugged and said the U.S. Army would study the issue if and when the administration notified it of a change in policy.

No.

I cannot describe how upset I was by this incident -- not because I particularly care about DADT as an issue but because this kind of uniformed foot-dragging makes me angry. Anyone in defense policy circles -- and most especially the chief of staff of the Army -- could and should have anticipated a proposed change in DADT. The time, then, to have tasked RAND or IDA or CNA or whoever to analyze the policy and the greater issue of homosexuals in uniform should have been when Pres. Obama took office. I remember sitting at the table thinking, "Oh, give me a break, sir -- take some freaking initiative!"

Anyway, I do not intend to wade into the full morass that is DADT and homosexuals in the military. But I will say this: Congressmen and members of the public should pay less attention to the many retired flag officers (average date of commission: 1835) who oppose homosexuals openly serving in the U.S. military and should instead poll serving U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. That's who Laura Miller and RAND will be polling. Their opinions, when combined with the desired policy preferences of the greater U.S. public, should be what matters. I could care less what some dude who garrisoned Shanghai in 1932 thinks.

More reading:

Owen West on DADT.

The 1993 RAND study.

Om Prakash in Joint Forces Quarterly.