Is Obama backing away from promise to lift the ban on gays in the military?

A somewhat disturbing article in yesterday’s Boston Globe made it sound like President Obama is reneging on his unequivocal promise to lift the ban on gays in the military.

The Obama administration is telling the Pentagon and gay-rights advocates that it will have to study the implications for national security and enlist more support in Congress before trying to overturn the so-called “don’t ask, don’t tell” law and allow gays to serve openly in the military, according to people involved in the discussions.

They said Obama, who pledged during the campaign to overturn the law, does not want to ask lawmakers to do so until the military has completed a comprehensive assessment of the impact that such a move would have on military discipline. Then, the president hopes to be able to make a case to members of both parties that overturning the 1993 law would be in the best interest of national security.

There are a few problems here.

1. Why do a study on the effect lifting the ban will have on “national security”? Obama has already committed to lifting the ban. Yet now, after the fact, we’re looking at whether it’s a good, safe idea? That doesn’t send a very confident message about Obama’s decision-making – investigating the wisdom of a decision after he’s already made it.

2. If that study says that lifting the ban will harm national security (and we all know the results of the study will be leaked), then will Obama really still lift the ban? What’s to guarantee that the study won’t completely undercut Obama’s promise?

3. Does anyone doubt for a minute what conclusion the Pentagon brass is going to reach in this study about whether or not it’s a good idea to lift the ban? If the intent is to use this study to lobby Congress in favor of lifting the ban, the study will have the opposite effect if it reaches the wrong conclusion.

4. It almost sounds as if Obama is planning on using the study to help him determine whether he even wants to lift the ban at all – again, in direct contradiction to his repeated promises on the issue.

I think Obama is wise to get his ducks in a row, and wise to court Congress, before trying to lift the ban (and in any case, the ban is now written into law, so Obama will need Congress in order to lift it). But this decision to have the Pentagon do a “study” on the national security implications of lifting the ban sounds like we’re walking into a bit of a buzz saw. It also sounds, from the article, like Obama hasn’t quite made up his mind, and may actually be waiting to see what the study says before making up his mind as to whether to proceed – if so, that would be a major, and devastating, flip-flop.

We have no idea what the Obama administration is actually planning, as we’re forced to rely exclusively on news stories to read the tea leaves. Joe and I have been waiting two years to hear from Obama’s head of gay and lesbian outreach, in spite of repeated requests to meet, talk, or just give us an occasional royal wave from a safe distance. Gay and lesbian Obama supporters shouldn’t have to divine Obama’s civil rights policy from two poorly written paragraphs in a newspaper, but that’s where we still are.

Obama is going to need to learn the concept of outreach if he is going to govern effectively. Relationships aren’t built in a vacuum. Distrust, and misunderstandings, however, are.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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