Dear Mr. Smithers,
Thank you for contacting me regarding the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. I appreciate hearing your views on this controversial issue.
Recently, the Senate Armed Services Committee received testimony from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the Service Secretaries on the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, echoing the desire of President Obama to have it repealed by Congress. The committee also heard the personal views of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, several of the combatant commanders, and most recently, the Service Chiefs, who have responsibility for the organization, training, and overall readiness of their forces and for providing their best military advice to the President on matters that might affect their ability to ensure sufficiently trained and ready forces.
Each of the military’s Service Chiefs has expressed his support for the comprehensive, ten-month policy review of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that Secretary Gates has directed. However, each has indicated that he is not prepared to support a repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy at this time. Based on their expert testimony, I am urging Congress to await the completion of the Pentagon’s policy review in order to give the Service Chiefs the information they have asked for before any attempt is made to change law. I will strongly oppose any attempt to change the current law based on an incomplete and inadequate review of this policy, and I hope that my fellow Senators will also take this approach in the interest of national security.
With respect to the review itself, I have expressed my concerns about its focus and scope. Unfortunately, in his testimony earlier this year to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary Gates described the mandate as “a review of the issues associated with properly implementing a repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy.” The guiding question, as Secretary Gates put it, should be “not whether the military prepares to make this change, but how we best prepare for it.” This is consistent with President Obama’s goals, but it seems to get things backwards: The current Pentagon review should be an objective study of the relevant military issues, not an implementation plan.
The issue that Congress must decide, and the issue the Service Chiefs should be asked to give their best military advice about, is whether the “Don’t Ask Don’t’ Tell” policy should be repealed. We should ask that question to our service personnel and their families at all levels and genuinely consider their views in our debate. Clearly, there are many policy and logistical challenges that would have to be overcome if the law is repealed, but that should not be the primary focus of the ongoing policy review. I will continue to insist that we use the coming months to study not only how to implement a change to the current policy, but also whether and why the men and women of the Armed Forces – the generals, the officers, the NCOs, and the privates – support or oppose such a change. I would then expect the views of the Service Chiefs to incorporate this critically important information.
I am proud of, and thankful for, every American who chooses to put on the uniform of our nation and serve their country, particularly in this time of war.The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is not perfect, but it reflects a compromise achieved with great difficulty that has effectively supported military readiness. However imperfect, the policy has allowed many gay and lesbian Americans to serve their country. I honor their service, I honor their sacrifices, and I honor them. But we should not change the current policy until we are confident – from a military standpoint, with the informed advice of the Service Chiefs – that such a change is consistent with military effectiveness.
Again, thank you again for writing me on this issue. Feel free to contact me in the future on this or any other matter.
United States Senator