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Reason Foundation

Obama's Betrayal on Don't Ask Don't Tell

Shikha Dalmia
June 3, 2009, 5:14pm

Five months into office, and President Barack Obama already has an impressive record of broken promises. He is shuttering the successful D.C. voucher program that gave about 1,500 minority families hope every year to escape D.C.'s crime-ridden, soul-numbing, mind-killing public schools, after suggesting during the campaign that he won't do this. He has decided to continue the Bush administration's policy of "prolonged detention" under which suspected terrorists can be locked away indefinitely without a trial after pledging to end it. And in my Forbes column this morning, I point out that Obama is betraying gays by backtracking on his promise to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. This, desipte the fact that the majority of the public supports its repeal and the evidence from abroad suggests that there is little military downside to letting gays openly serve in the army.

Take Israel, for instance, I note:

"Unlike the United States, it never actively barred gays, thanks to conscription--but it restricted avowed gays from serving in top positions or sensitive intelligence jobs.

Israel's military hasn't become a ragamuffin force since it lifted these restrictions in 1993. It remains among the best fighting forces in the world. Indeed, a 2001 study by Aaron Belkin and Melissa Levitt of the University of California, Santa Barbara's Palm Center, which studies sexual minorities in the military, found no evidence that allowing known gays to serve in top jobs has diminished performance. Gay rights opponents dismiss this research on grounds that the Palm Center is a front for gay advocates. But the U.S. government's own General Accounting Office took an in-depth look at four gay-tolerant countries in 1993 and found no ill-effects on their militaries either. Likewise, another 1993 study by the Rand Corp. found "no direct evidence regarding the effects of the presence of acknowledged homosexuals on unit cohesion and unit performance."

Indeed, so mainstream has the idea of an integrated force become in Israel that a 2002 film, Yossi & Jagger, depicting the travails and triumphs of a closet gay commander in love with a soldier in his unit, was not only a big hit with the public, it also received official military screenings. "Gay presence has become a total non-issue for the Israeli army," says Yossi Shain, a commentator and political scientist at the Tel Aviv University.

Similarly, England--whose military nine years ago was forced, kicking and screaming, by courts to include gays--has now seamlessly assimilated them--so much so that most younger Brits can't even understand what the big fuss was to begin with.

Repealing Don't Ask won't hand gays a license to turn the military into a hub of gay activity, as some conservatives no doubt fear. There are, after all, better ways of getting a date than going through boot camp. Its repeal will simply protect gays from being penalized for admitting that they are gay. Rules against sexual fraternization--both among homosexuals and heterosexuals--will still remain in place, meaning that troops will have plenty of reason to maintain decorum and discretion. Gay Israeli soldiers apparently don't go around flaunting their sexuality even though there isn't any official penalty for doing so.

But while both public opinion--and evidence--are lining up in favor of repealing Don't Ask, President Obama is going in the opposite direction. The White House's civil rights Web site in recent weeks has significantly watered down the strong language it was using to signal its commitment to scrapping the law. Even more troubling, Obama did nothing--not so much as utter a whisper of protest--when West Point grad Dan Choi, an Iraq veteran and an Arab linguist, was fired recently for revealing that he was gay.

President Obama is pleading for time to push this issue until after, presumably, he has averted global warming, revived the economy and implemented universal health coverage. But to backburner a major civil rights cause for which the country is ready, and that is well within his power to advance, in order to save the world first, bespeaks a profound megalomania."

Whole thing here.


Shikha Dalmia is Senior Analyst


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