One of the leading voices against gays in the armed forces had stern words on Thursday for the top uniform official in the U.S. military and his public support for ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, railed against Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen — and efforts to allow gays to serve in the U.S. military — at a press conference with other social conservatives during the Conservative Political Action Conference, which is taking place this weekend in D.C.
During her presentation, she pointed to a button on her jacket depicting a rainbow-colored pentagon with a question mark at the center. Donnelly said the button symbolized the unanswered questions her “Military Culture Coalition” had on how passage of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which she dubbed “the LGBT law,” would impact the U.S. armed forces.
Standing before four posters of complex flow charts detailing questions that arise if gays were allowed to serve in the military — including one chart that detailed the impact of “forced intimacy” — Donnelly was critical of Mullen for coming out in favor of open service in congressional testimony earlier this month.
“Adm. Mullen admitted he didn’t know what repeal would mean, but he spoke — for himself personally — in favor of policies that are known to be disruptive,” he said. “Adm. Mullen called this leadership, but it looked to me like letting down the troops.”
Donnelly said it was “inappropriate” for Mullen to testify in favor of open service before the Pentagon completes its review on implementing repeal, which is expected at the end of this year.
“It was inappropriate for him to get that far ahead of Congress, to try to create the impression — even though he said he was speaking only for himself — to pretty much squeeze out of the media picture military people who disagree,” Donnelly said.
She touted a letter of 1,164 flag and general officers in support of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and held it over her head after she rebuked Mullen.
Noting a recent report from McClatchy news service, Donnelly also criticized Mullen for publicly noting how no service members had questions for him on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during a question-and-answer session in Amman, Jordan. The report stated none of those troops asked Mullen about the law or his support for open service.
“What surprised me about that was that Adm. Mullen would try to solicit comments from active duty military people and put them at a disadvantage in presence of the press,” she said. “I don’t think active duty people should be used as props to promote this cause.”
Kevin Nix, spokesperson for the pro-repeal Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said following the presser Donnelly’s opinion shouldn’t be taken as seriously as Mullen’s view — or the views of former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell and former Vice President Richard Cheney, who also recently came out in favor the Pentagon’s approach toward repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“We hope Congress would listen more to the recommendations from Adm. Mullen and Secretary Gates than the recommendations from Elaine Donnelly and the other groups we heard from today,” Nix said. “Adm. Mullen, Secretary Gates, Vice President Cheney, Colin Powell are in a better position to know the impact of lifting the ban on the military.”
The opponents of gays in the military also emphasized “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” shouldn’t be changed at a time when the country is facing terrorism threats and is engaged in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said, “This is the worst time to consider experimenting with our nation’s military.”
But when asked whether there would ever be a time to consider allowing gays to serve openly in the U.S. military, Donnelly said, “I will think I answer for everybody; there is no good time to use our military for social engineering.”
In response, Nix said while timing may not matter for opponents of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” ending the law during the course of two wars does matter for those who seeking open service.
“The timing is this year, during two wars, and in somewhat favorable political climate,” he said. “This is when we need to retain all the qualified people we can get. Those skills and capabilities need to stay in and not get discharged.”
Donnelly also disputed the argument by proponents of repeal that countries allowing gays to serve openly, like the United Kingdom and Israel, have experienced no detrimental impact on their militaries.
“These two countries are by no means role models for the United States,” she said. “The conditions in a small country like Israel do not duplicate the long-term deployments and the closed quarters that our military experiences on a regular basis.”
But Nix said countries large and small have been successful in implementing open service for their militaries.
“The Israeli military is tough as nails,” he said. “The large British military is one of our staunchest allies. The fact remains other militaries have moved to open service and can serve as a guide for our military.”
Donnelly’s press conference wasn’t an officially sponsored CPAC event. She held the presser in the same hotel that CPAC was taking place, but her event wasn’t an official part of the conference.
Conservatives who support “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are increasingly becoming isolated in the conservative movement. Following her speech at CPAC, Liz Cheney, a conservative activsts and daughter of Richard Cheney, told Talking Points Memo she favors ending the ban on open service in the U.S. military.
“It’s time for it to end,” she was quoted as saying. “The joint chiefs, certainly the chairman of the joint chiefs, has been clear about that and I think that the country really is at a place now where it’s time for it to end.”