January 9, 2014 at 5:53 am EST | by Chris Johnson
Obama ‘blindsided’ Gates over ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal


Robert Gates, Pentagon, Department of Defense, gay news, Washington Blade

Defense Secretary Robert Gates reportedly said he was blindsided by President Obama’s announcement that he would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Robert Gates’ new tell-all book is stirring controversy, including among LGBT rights advocates, who are hitting back at leaked excerpts regarding “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

According to a preview of “Duty” in media reports, including in the Washington Post, the former defense secretary identifies “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal as among the issues he said he endured “continued conflict and a couple of important White House breaches of faith” over the course of 2010.

Although Gates reportedly writes he supported the decision to move toward open service, he says Obama “blindsided” him and then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen with one day’s notice that he would announce his request to repeal the law.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Gates also takes a jab at Obama by saying “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal was among the few military issues about which the president expressed interest.

“The only military matter, apart from leaks, about which I ever sensed deep passion on his part was ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,'” Gates reportedly writes.

Based on the media outlet’s depiction of the portion of the book, it’s hard to tell what Gates is referring to by Obama’s announcement that he would move to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Gates may be referring to the 2010 State of the Union address in which Obama pledged to “work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.”

Nonetheless, LGBT advocates who contributed to the effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are scratching their heads over the depiction that Gates was “blindsided” by the president’s plans.

Joe Solmonese, former president of the Human Rights Campaign, said his memory of what happened “doesn’t really square” with Gates’ reported recollection of the administration’s efforts to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“If anything, I think they were particularly sensitive to making sure that Secretary Gates and Adm. Mullen were completely engaged in the process,” Solmonese said. “At each step along the way, my recollection, my memory, what I witnessed being part of the process was that was something they were incredibly sensitive to.”

Recalling that the Obama administration set up a 10-month study over the course of 2010 to examine the potential impact of open service, Solmonese said the administration approached repeal “with a deference toward” Gates and Mullen. They both endorsed the study when they announced it before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February 2010.

Nathaniel Frank, a political commentator who formerly worked for the University of California’s Palm Center on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” said Obama was “clear from the start” he wanted open service and it’s “hard to see” how Gates could have felt blindsided.

“The two men were doing a delicate dance over how much to prioritize repeal among many important issues, and both were under a lot of pressure to deliver,” Frank said. “I don’t know what their private conversations involved, but eventually the president came to understand that the political window for repeal was closing, and he had to move forward.”

Solmonese added he thinks Gates included in his book disparaging remarks about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal as part of a broader theme of disappointment with the administration. Although Solmonese said he wouldn’t speculate on Gates’ motivation, he said the former defense secretary’s claim he was “blindsided” is “somewhat disingenuous to me.”

“This was a United States senator and a candidate for president, and the president all through the first part of his term who ongoingly talked about his intention to end ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,'” Solmonese said. “Quite frankly,  it was a rather long time from that particular moment, if that’s what he’s talking about, until we actually ended ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'”

But not all LGBT advocates who worked on the transition to open service share the same view.

Jarrod Chlapowski, who worked on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as part of HRC and the now-defunct Servicemembers United, said “it’s possible” Gates didn’t expect repeal would happen because there was a question over whether open service or the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would be a priority for the LGBT movement.

“There are a number of events prior to that which indicated that DADT was sexier than ENDA: Patrick Murphy’s push in the House (coordinated with Voices of Honor), the rise of Dan Choi, the standing ovation during the HRC dinner in 2009,” Chlapowski said. “I remember talking to David Smith the next day who was absolutely shocked that DADT resonated so strongly among HRC’s major donors, and you can bet that shock was shared by the administration.”

Chlapowski said the “sudden announcement” that Gates recalled would be consistent with the sudden change in priorities for the LGBT groups.

“So the narrative that the administration worked closely with Gates on a long-term strategy only to pull out the rug from under Gates jibes with the sudden recalibration of the entire gay rights movement at roughly the same time,” Chlapowski said.

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Gates’ remarks regarding “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Even after Congress voted to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the president signed the repeal measure in December 2010, Obama, Gates and Mullen waited nine months to formally lift the ban in September 2011. Over the course of that time, military officials engaged with troops to prepare for the change in law, saying their duties wouldn’t change with open service.

Winnie Stachelberg, vice president of external affairs at the Center for American Progress, said she won’t comment on Gates’ recollection because she wasn’t part of his discussions. However, she said whatever the challenges in getting there, the end result to open service was seamless.

“Regardless of one’s memory, I think it’s important to note that the president and the administration were firmly committed, and that the process took some challenging turns, but the end result speaks for itself,” Stachelberg said. “Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was a success and the concerns about undermining readiness and unit cohesion and retention never materialized.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • Despite once donating money and considerable publicity to the now-defunct Servicemembers United, we came to have some serious disagreements with Jarrod Chlapowski about choices he made and things he said and did not say during the battle to end the ban. Still, I retained an overall respect for what he did contribute to it, including crisscrossing the country with other gay veterans to drum up public support for repeal. But his effort to justify Robert Gates’ shameless attempt to rewrite history in his own narcissistic image deeply saddens us; leading us to ask, “Is this nothing more than putting the ‘Republican’ in Gay Republican’”? We’re not surprised by Gates’ gall—the unindicted coconspirator in the Iran-Contra scandal who has a documented history of duplicity, having been publicly accused by one former CIA associate of "skewing intelligence," and by the "New York Times" of "withholding information or distorting it" as CIA Director. But we thought Chlapowski smarter than to try to revise history so well-documented. There was NO “sudden recalibration of the entire gay rights movement” that “jibes” with Gates’ claim of the rug being pulled out from under him by the President. While I have many issues with how Mr. Obama played his role over time, the Movement and the gay community generally (which NEVER have been represented by the Human Rights Champagne fund’s David Smith) had rekindled its 30+ years old interest in ending the ban before Obama had even announced his run for the Party’s Presidential nomination—and Gates was still reporting to George Bush fils. Ironically Chlapowski’s efforts to erase Gates' sins erases much of the role he personally played in helping restart that fire.

    FACT CHECK: The first DADT repeal bill was introduced in Congress in 2005—the same year, gay veterans began participating in the nationwide, end DADT educational Call to Duty Tour organized by Chlapowski and his then-partner Alex Nicholson, and underwritten by co-organizer out retired Rear Admiral Alan Steinman. Members of Soulforce were engaging in acts of civil disobedience at military recruiting stations in 2006—the same year Nicholson was featured on the cover of “The Advocate’s” story about the renewed effort to end the ban. ……….On November 29, 2007, again before he’d won the nomination, Sen. Barack Obama released a statement on his intentions to work for repeal—WITH the military—his longest statement on any single gay rights issue. The next day, Chlapowski, Nicholson, and Adm. Steinman were among the leaders of a spectacular event on the Capitol Mall in Washington DC which they’d covered with a forest of 12,000 American flags representing 12,000 gay patriots who’d been discharge so far under DADT. (NB: Mr. Smith’s HRC was one of the cosponsors.) And a statement was released signed by 28 retired generals and admirals advocating for repeal, echoing that of former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Shalikashvili, in a January 2007 “New York Times” op ed. Chlapowski was also one of the gay veterans interviewed in a December 6, 2007, “60 Minutes” segment on the growing number in the military, both rank and file and commanders, who thought it was time to end the ban. And, as noted, repeal remained high on Mr. Obama’s list of campaign promises after he got the nomination, and he was repeatedly asked about it in debates and interviews. The “rug” for repeal was fully woven by the time he was sworn in—and, contrary to the urging of repeal advocates, had decided to keep Repug Gates on as SECDEF.

    Moving from Chlapowski’s disingenuousness, the biggest nail in the coffin for Gate’s Big Lie that he and Adm. Mullen were “blindsided” was forged in a February 1, 2009, “Boston Globe” article—barely two weeks after Mr. Obama’s inauguration. Quote: “. … one senior officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press, said staff officers for Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have been told it will be several months at the earliest – possibly not even this year – until the top brass will be formally asked to weigh in on a change in policy. And even then, he said, the military has been assured it will have wide latitude to undertake a detailed study of how a change in the policy would affect the military.” On March 2, 2009, the “New York Times” (NYT) quoted White House spokesman Tommy Vietor saying: "The president supports changing 'Don't Ask Don't Tell.' As part of a longstanding pledge, he has also begun consulting closely with Secretary Gates and Chairman Mullen so that this change is done in a sensible way that strengthens our armed forces and our national security.” They quoted Defense Department spokeswoman Cynthia Smith on April 2, 2009: “[Secretary Gates] and Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are discussing how to move forward on this issue and discussions are still ongoing.” An April 16, 2009, NYT article reported that Gates confirmed that he had begun discussions with the President and Admiral Mullen on the subject. On May 21, 2009, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Gates and Mullen were “working to address the challenges associated with implementation of the President's commitment," which would be done in "a way that is least disruptive to our troops." On May 24, 2009, Mullen told ABC’s “This Week” moderator, George Stephanopoulos: “The president has made his strategic intent very clear. That it’s his intent at some point in time to ask Congress to change this law. … And so I've had discussions with the Joint Chiefs about this. I've done certainly a lot of internal, immediate staff discussions about what the issues would be. … And what I also owe the president, and I owe the men and women in uniform, is an implementation plan to achieve this based on a timeline that would be set, obviously, after the law is changed.”

    In short, Gates’ claim of being “blindsided,” of a White House “breach in faith,” is clearly nothing more than an egomaniac’s bitterness that HIS BOSS didn’t ask his permission to finally, a year into office, formally call on Congress to repeal DADT in his 2010 State of the Union Address. And, obvious to anyone adequately, objectively paying attention over that time, is that still fueling that bitterness four years later is the toxicity of the sore loser. For contrary to his reiterated claim that he supported repeal, Gates clearly NEVER wanted it to happen; in fact, did everything he could to delay it: "let's push that one down the road a little bit" – to "Fox News Sunday," March 29, 2009…. “IF we do go down that road” while suggesting it could take several years as military racial integration did – NYT, April 16, 2009. And when that didn’t work, try to maim or kill it: e.g., insisting on another needless, multimillion dollar "study" he hoped would either give him a reason to oppose repeal again OR run out the clock on a vote in Congress….demanding veto power OVER CONGRESS AND THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES through the right to refuse “certification" of repeal even after the bill had been passed and signed…..demanding the bill be gutted of its post repeal nondiscrimination mandate …. blocking the Log Cabin challenge ruling injunction on discharges….leaving office still refusing to certify repeal even after six months of the "training" he demanded….ad nauseum.

    It may have taken nearly three years during which Gates needlessly discharged some 700 more LGB service members, and though those still serving suffer under the vile legacy of his successful gutting of the nondiscrimination mandate, but even as Second Class Soldiers, they won and Gates, no matter how much he tries to rewrite history (even inexplicably, sadly abetted by one gay veteran) lost.

    • Very nice article. Well written. You are right about Jarrod. Help finish the job by signing this petition: t http://wh.gov/lRI4d. It takes a moment to set up an account but it is important. This petition supports the legislation introduced by Senator Schatz of Hawaii. Support Gay Veterans and help us finish the job started with the repeal of DADT.

      Direct the Department of Defense to automatically change the DD214’s of service members…

  • #RobertGates another RightWing [expletive removed] trying 2 alter Reality, many Americans will believe him: Gate-Hole!

  • Interesting that Gates did not take this huge opportunity to thank LGBT service men and women for their selfless service despite being discriminated against daily. Some of that discrimination affecting them and their families continues today, so he left a huge part of the job undone. Hurray for the President for pushing forward for equality and a thank you to all who have served, including those who have done so while being so disrespected.

  • souds like in several ways the right wingers who hate our first black president evnagelzed Gates to join them.

    MFs belong in guantanamo with the aholes of 9-11. I
    ve dealt face to face with a bunch of them They beleive that everone except for their southern baptists / evangelists / born agains are going to the hellfires. This included catholics who "arent real chrstians"

    In th eold days we called these people White trash

  • Gates is a typical TYPICAL whore for the military industrial complex. He is 100% a political animal and is a traitor to the American people and the American taxpayer. It's all about funneling governmental money to people who know what military projects to invest in before anyone else. DIRTY. DISGUSTING. TRAITOROUS.

  • “I have a pen”, oh really Obama so then why didn’t you use it to sign an executive order overturning ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ and why did it take you four years to do it only to get votes in 2012, WHY?

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