Military chiefs oppose ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ compromise

In a setback for Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) and Senate Armed Services Committee supporters like Colorado’s Mark Udall, efforts to insert amendments overturning the military’s ban on open gay service in this year’s defense authorization bill appear to have met serious resistance. Igor Volsky of ThinkProgress has obtained letters from the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force urging lawmakers to forestall a legislative repeal until after the Pentagon’s Working Group on implementing the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” completes its report in December.

The markup of the Senate version of the bill is underway in the Armed Services Committee now. A floor vote in the House is expected Thursday.

As Volsky observes, the compromise enshrined in the amendments would punt implementation of the repeal until after the Working Group issues its guidance. But I’ve been hearing for days that key Pentagon leaders, despite Defense Secretary Gates’ begrudging support for the legislation, were embittered by the White House’s Monday pledge to LGBT activists to acquiesce to the legislative push. Regardless of the amendment’s substantive respect for the Working Group’s timetable, those leaders thought that the Working Group represented a mechanism for overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” with maximum military buy-in and minimal disruption to wartime operations. (Of all the service chiefs, only Gen. James Conway, the Marine Corps commandant, opposes overturning the ban on open gay service.)

The chiefs’ opposition indicates that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” fight has fallen into in a briar patch of acrimony, where substantively small differences appear massive due to injured pride and perceived disrespect.

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Spencer Ackerman

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