Military officers don't tend to be outspokenly opinionated. Military culture, after all, rewards officers for executing orders. It does necessarily encourage, say, taking a public stand on a controversial social issue. Admiral Mike Mullen, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is in an unusual position. As the highest ranking officer in the military, he sets policy. But Mullen's testimony today before the Senate Armed Service Committee, when he called for repealing don't ask, don't tell, was striking for its clearly personal, even heartfelt, tone.
Mr. Chairman, speaking for myself and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do. No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.
For me, personally, it comes down to integrity--theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.
I also believe that the great young men and women of our military can and would accommodate such a change. I never underestimate their ability to adapt.
Both officially and unofficially, Mullen's personal opinions have the power to shape the opinions of the military as a whole. The views of commanders are closely watched and often emulated throughout the uniformed ranks.
Mullen parried pointed questions from suspicious Senators. When Republican Jeff Sessions suggested Mullen was merely espousing White House policy, Mullen snapped, "I have served with homosexuals since 1968. Everyone in the military has." Mullen later tweeted, "Stand by what I said: Allowing homosexuals to serve openly is the right thing to do. Comes down to integrity."
Mullen's testimony is drawing a hail of praise from liberals thrilled to see him take charge. Conservative opponents of his position have been unable to bring themselves to criticize the Admiral's position, as they are less willing to question his judgment. Outside of his leadership within the military, this may be Mullen's greatest political contribution to repealing don't ask, don't tell.