Here's why the White House and the Pentagon so quickly accepted the Don't Ask, Don't Tell compromise: it provides comfort to a political ally and doesn't really change the process or calendar for its repeal.
The compromise that emerged is due directly to lobbying efforts by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, the Human Rights Campaign and by members of Congress. The SLDN had been shut out of high-level White House meetings after clashing with Jim Messina, the White House official responsible for the policy. But the two have since re-engaged each other. When it became apparent to the White House that it could add repeal language to the Senate's defense appropriations bill and pass it, it facilitated a compromise. The policy will be formally repealed, first. That will be on the books. Forever. But. The Secretary of Defense will determine WHEN the repeal goes into effect. And lo' and behold, the criteria for determining when it will go into effect will be the same criteria that the Pentagon's working group on DADT had set up as thresholds: no impact on readiness, recruitment, effectiveness, retention, or unit cohesiveness.
It is important for the White House and the Pentagon to build institutional support for the repeal. They plan to do this by commissioning a military-wide study of soldiers' attitudes, holding public and private hearings, and even by re-assigning flag officers who oppose the policy. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, personally favor repeal. But they also believe that gay soldiers would be more easily integrated if the process of integration is seen as legitimate, and if opponents are given the chance to make their case and express their concerns.
Gay rights groups understood this, but they feared that without language on the books, the Pentagon would stall and delay -- forces hostile to gays would prevail in Congress. This "delayed implementation" approach was viewed skeptically by the White House until recently, which believed that it was not politically viable in Congress.
There are at least four congressional hurdles to vault, but repeal advocates believe they've finally got the votes.
However, repeal will become official policy; not if, but when becomes set in stone. Gates, initially hesitant to tinker with the plan, which saw his work being finished in December and repeal early next year, agreed to compromise language.