As the top U.S. commander overseeing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan expressed support Tuesday for reconsidering “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” he noted the Pentagon study currently underway could offer a positive or negative take on open service.
Following his initial remarks on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, made the remarks to the Senate Armed Services Committee on the possible outcome of the study.
Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) asked Petraeus to confirm he said earlier in Levin’s office that the study could show repeal’s “likely effects could go in either direction.”
“I believe you told me — either negative or positive, the study could show,” Levin said.
Petraeus affirmed that he made those remarks, saying, “It could. It could. Yes, sir.”
Asked by DC Agenda to clarify this view of the study, Levin replied, “Yeah, in terms like the impact on recruitment, readiness — it could have a positive or negative — and that’s what he confirmed here.”
Petraeus didn’t talk to reporters after the hearing.
If the parameters of the study are to determine whether repeal would have a positive or negative impact — as opposed to examining the best way to implement repeal — it would be inconsistent with how Defense Secretary Robert Gates outlined the review in congressional testimony last month. At the time, Gates said the study would focus on implementing repeal and not whether it would be beneficial or harmful to the military.
“The question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change, but how we best prepare for it,” he said. “We received our orders from the commander-in-chief and we are moving out accordingly.”
The nature of the study as described by Petraeus and Levin also raises questions about why President Obama, who campaigned on repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” would authorize a review that could complicate repeal efforts.
But Kevin Nix, spokesperson for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said he’s “confident” the working group will follow the directive outlined by Gates “to figure out how best to implement open service.”
“The Senate repeal bill gives the military plenty of additional time — well into 2011 — to look at how to transition while Congress moves to end the law in 2010,” Nix said.
Nathaniel Frank, author of “Unfriendly Fire” and research fellow for the Palm Center, a think-tank on gays in the military at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said the problem with the working group is that it could succumb to what he called “political expediency.”
Frank said “mounds of research” have already answered questions about the impact on open service in the military. If the group does its job well, Frank noted, the findings will be consistent with this research and discover “there will be no negative impact or that any impact will be negligible and manageable.”
“But if the group falls prey to political pressure to exaggerate the risks to readiness, that will be used by obstructionists to derail reform in Congress, and ultimately full repeal is up to Congress,” Frank said.
Although the study was outlined as a way to implement repeal, Frank said what Gates actually put in place was a “political process,” and Obama’s willingness to set it up “does raise concerns about a repeat of the failures of 1993.”
Whatever the focus of the study, Petraeus backed the review Tuesday during the hearing as the best way to approach “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” while saying the time has come to “consider a change.”
“I believe the time has come to consider a change to ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ but I think it should be done in a thoughtful and deliberative manner,” he said. “And that should include the conduct of the review that Secretary Gates had directed that would consider the views of the force by changing the policy.”
Petraeus initially asked for eight minutes to give a statement on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in response to a question from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), but Levin denied him that opportunity, saying giving the general eight minutes would violate the rules by going over the time McCain was allotted for questioning.
Levin said another senator could devote their entire question-and-answer time for Petraeus so he could offer his longer statement, although no committee panel volunteered their time. At the end of the hearing, Levin said he would welcome the longer statement from Petraeus if he wanted to submit it as part of the record.
In response to Petraeus’ remarks, Nix said SLDN is awaiting the general’s eight-minute answer before weighing in on Petraeus’ position.
“We agree that open service is more than a sound byte,” Nix said. “The bottom line is our service members are professionals and they know how to bring about the change to open service.”