Gates Urges Repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

Defense Secretary Robert Gates today strongly urged the Senate to pass legislation repealing the controversial "don't ask, don't tell" law, citing the findings of a 10-month Pentagon study investigating the impact of lifting the military's ban on gays and lesbians from serving openly.

Though potentially disruptive in the short term, Gates said that repeal "would not be wrenching, traumatic change that many have feared and predicted."

Gates said that the report's findings indicated only a "low risk" of repeal, noting that more than two-thirds of "tens of thousands of troops and their families" who responded to a survey indicated that they do not object to gays and lesbians serving openly in uniform. But he acknowledged that about 40 percent to 60 percent of troops serving in predominantly all-male ground combat specialties -- mostly Army and Marines -- predicted a negative impact if the current ban is repealed.

"Those findings and the potential implications for America's fighting forces remain a concern to service chiefs and to me," Gates said at a Pentagon new conference, noting that this has made the service chiefs "less sanguine" about repeal in regard to the impact a repeal would have on the readiness of ground combat units.

But Gates said he was determined to "minimize any negative impact" that repealing the ban would have on troops or their units. "This can be done and should be done without risk to combat readiness," he said.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who joined Gates in publicly voicing support for repeal, said he endorsed the results of the working group responsible for the study, which he said was given the "tall order" of assessing the best way to implement a change in the 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" policy across all the armed services.

"And so for the first time the Chiefs and I have more than just anecdotal evidence and hearsay to inform the advice we give our civilian leaders," Mullen said in his prepared statement, adding that he and the chiefs met with Obama as recently as yesterday.

The findings add pressure on the Senate, with only three weeks left in an already overbooked lame-duck session, to pass a fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill with a repeal provision. Obama and senior administration officials have long stated their support for a legislative repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," preferring to have Congress approve language that would allow for an "orderly" implementation of a dramatic change for the military over leaving the decision to the courts.

Gates said that he did not know exactly how long it would take to implement the change in policy, and stressed that Congress should end the ban this year to prevent the courts from abruptly making changes. He said he preferred to take a "careful and considered approach" that he said Congress and the pending legislation would allow him.

"The key to success as with most things military is training, education-- and above all strong and principled leadership-- throughout the chain of command," he said.

The version of the fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee contains language that would repeal the 1993 ban after the Pentagon certifies that doing so will not affect unit cohesion, troop morale, or combat readiness. The House has already passed its version of the defense bill, with an amendment added during floor debate identical to the Senate Armed Services Committee's repeal language.

Presented by

Sara Sorcher & Megan Scully

Sara Sorcher is a staff reporter (national security and foreign policy), and Megan Scully is a staff writer (defense and national security), for National Journal.

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