Republicans Attack Military Leadership to Defend Ban On Gays

{crossposted from the VoteVets blog, VetsVoice}

"Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates are both political appointees. They're going to be biased. They're going to say what the administration wants them to say." -- U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, Jr. Stunning. That was my reaction when I listened to a freshman Republican Congressman rebut the principled position of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, and the Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, that the policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" needed to end and that gay members of the Armed Services should be able to serve their country without fear that just being who they are would end their service.

It was especially alarming to hear the judgment of Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates dismissed so easily as 'biased.'

Anyone who knows Admiral Mullen or Bob Gates knows damn well that neither of them say what any Administration just wants them to say.

This is, after all, Secretary Bob Gates - a lifelong Republican who was appointed to positions of high trust and leadership by President Ronald Reagan, President George Herbert Walker Bush, and President George W Bush. This is a Defense Secretary who planned to leave government and had to be talked into continuing to serve in a Democratic Administration. He is doing his duty today out of patriotism, not political ambition or partisanship.

And this is, after all, the same Admiral Mullen who was appointed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by President George W Bush. A four star Admiral who has spent 42 years wearing the uniform of his country. He's tough. He's independent. He speaks his mind, and he speaks the truth. Indeed, at Tuesday's hearing, when Republicans members of the Senate Armed Services Committee accused him of "undue command influence" and of obeying "directives" from President Obama, Admiral Mullen responded in just the way you would expect a man of his caliber. "This is not about command influence," he said. "This is about leadership, and I take that very seriously."

But let's test what Congressman Hunter said. Does the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs just automatically sing from the same playbook as the Administration? Ironically, the last time a Democratic President tried to lift the ban on gays on the military, the Chairman of the JCS, who happened to be a Republican appointed by his Republican predecessor, broke with the President and opposed gays serving openly. His name was General Colin Powell. The Republicans back then didn't think to question the impartiality of that political appointee.

Of course, today, General Powell has changed his position - read the story here - and he stands with Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates . This is not 1993. We have come a long way as a country, and we have come a long way as a military to arrive at this moment when I believe our men and women in uniform agree with the Commander in Chief and with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military is, as Admiral Mullen put it, "the right thing to do." This has been a rocky journey. In 1993, I testified in front of Senator Strom Thurmond's Armed Services Committee in favor of lifting the ban. I said then and I believe even more fervently now that, "when it comes to defending our country, we cannot afford to waste the bravery and service of a single American. This is a time to find public servants, not public scapegoats."

And it hasn't always been Democrats making the case. Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, a conservative Republican icon, once argued: "You don't have to be straight in the military, you just have to be able to shoot straight." Not long after he retired from the Senate in 1987, he tried to warn his fellow Republicans that "eventually the ban will be lifted" and the sooner the better. Rep. Duncan Hunter may claim that he never served with anyone in the military who was openly gay, but he'd do well to read what Senator Goldwater once rightly observed, "Everyone knows that gays have served honorably in the military since at least the time of Julius Caesar. They'll still be serving long after we're all dead and buried. That should not surprise anyone."

Anyone who believes otherwise should again study Admiral Mullen's testimony about a policy which "forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend this country." Senator John McCain, who replaced Barry Goldwater in the Senate, certainly understood the opposition to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. In 2006, as he was preparing for his successful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, McCain told an audience at Iowa State University that "the day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, Senator, we ought to change the policy, then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to."

Today, not just John McCain, but everyone in positions of public responsibility should understand that the moment is now - the leadership of our military are joining the Commander in Chief in saying, the time for change has come.

President Obama, in his State of the Union address last week, argued that repealing the ban on gays in the military reaffirms the American ideals of equality, unity and diversity, the very source of our strength at home and abroad, the very values Americans in uniform defend around the globe.

And this change is overdue. This policy has costs beyond the immorality of the ban. More than 13,500 people have been forced to leave the military under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." And according to a Government Accountability Office report, the cost of recruiting and training their replacements had cost taxpayers $190.5 million through 2003. We have no estimates on how much more it has cost us in the six years since.

But the most eloquent and most convincing testimony against the policy of "don't ask, don't tell" comes, as such testimony usually does, from those who have paid the highest price for the policy's failings. And the most compelling I have ever read is on a tombstone in Congressional Cemetery, not far from the Capitol. It says, "When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one".

It doesn't have to be this way any longer. No more grave markers need to be etched with such painful words. Remember now the words of President Truman when - in the face of enormous outcry and opposition - he desegregated the military: ""there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin." Let's complete President Truman's mission, and wipe away the last stain of legal discrimination in the Armed Services of our nation.