The Executive Option On The Gay Ban

Aaron Belkin provides some interesting advance clues to what we may hear tomorrow from Gates and Mullen:

The Palm Center has announced that President Obama’s executive changes to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, expected to be announced Tuesday, could significantly impact the lives of gay troops. The expected statements from Defense Secretary Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen would protect some service members from investigations based on third-party allegations and set a new standard for what constitutes reliable sources and credible information that trigger a “don’t ask, don’t tell” investigation. It is also expected that the military brass will announce changes to the adjudication of potential discharges, whose effect could be to require a flag officer to sign off on any discharge for it to move forward.

“This ‘Obama Rule’ could provide a new standard for ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ investigations,” said Dr. Aaron Belkin, Director of the Palm Center. “Depending on how it’s implemented, the executive action taken by the President could be seismic. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ has rested on the belief that the presence of openly gay service members is always bad for the military. The new Obama Rule would mean a shift in the military’s focus toward keeping gay troops, reflecting the military’s belief that they are as essential as their heterosexual peers.”

Belkin also said the effectiveness of the changes would depend on what message was sent by top civilian and uniformed leaders to the officers responsible for approving discharges. “If new discretion is being granted to two-stars, then the actual impact of the Obama rule will hinge on whether the President, the Defense Secretary, and the Service Chiefs send a clear signal that discharges are to be minimized,” Belkin said.

The key to this working is speedy and decisive implementation - and a stated goal to drastically reduce the number of discharges. As an interim step, it could lead to a military in which gay service-members are increasingly allowed to stay. The truth is, despite Christianist propaganda, the vast majority of gay soldiers are interested in doing their jobs and serving their country - not crusading for gay equality. They just want to be left alone. 

This should not, emphatically not, be a reason to avoid legislative action to end the discrimination. But if it works to hollow out the policy from within, to make expulsion of gay servicemembers rarer and rarer, to reiterate and reinforce the critical and valuable role gay soldiers play in the defense of their country, and if it is endorsed by the military brass - then it's a very interesting path for Obama to take.

Stay tuned.