The Administration's Don't Ask, Don't Tell Strategy

The Obama administration does intend to preside over the repeal of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy banning gays from its ranks, and it does have a strategy to get there from here. Unfortunately, Obama and the gay community are at different starting points, and those who've been on the frontlines of the fight, not to mention those who are getting fired from their jobs, are much more restless and much less patient -- no surprise here.

You can see the outline of the strategy in the administration's decision to let stand an appeals court ruling requiring the military to explain why being gay is, in itself, a reason to have fired a highly regarded lesbian Air Force major.  The effect of not appealing the ruling will put the burden on the government to explain to skeptical judges why being gay is inherently incompatible with military service, something the administration (and many in the military) believe is very hard to prove, let alone justify. The hope here is that by allowing the military to make its best case -- and then seeing that case be torn apart by the courts, a critical mass of opposition to Don't Ask, Don't Tell, will build.

Obama will probably convene a commission -- not sure yet whether it'll be a blue ribbon dealy or a smaller task force -- that will,  under the guise of studying the "problem," be tasked with coming up with ways to meaningfully and safely integrate open homosexuality with military service. No mistake here: the administration will not give this commission the option to decide that being gay is not compatible with service.  But the idea is to build a consensus through all available means -- legally, through the courts, in public, through a concerted but non-hectoring public relations effort, in the military, by conveying the sense that Obama takes the objections to his view seriously -- and then, when such a consensus has arisen, work with Congress to change the policy.

That's what Obama wants. He wants consensus, and that doesn't simply mean the approval of the American public, which, by and large, supports gays who want to serve in the military.  This approach by no means endears him to gay rights activists, and it probably shouldn't. But it's what Obama has decided to do.