At the end of the day, there remain major problems with the Obama Rule, mainly that “don’t ask, don’t tell” still exists, something which President Obama could work harder to change by putting repeal into the Defense Authorization Bill. Meanwhile, service members are still at risk of being fired every day for something that has nothing to do with military capability. Even in the new regs, much of the old language of “propensities” and “fact-finding inquires” that stinks of 17th-century Salem, and that has made this policy so odious and so impossible to enforce consistently, still exists, and so there will still be problems as a result.
Maddeningly, as admirable as Secretary Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen have been in showing leadership on this front, they are sending highly mixed messages that will end up making the job of repeal harder when it inevitably comes: they continue to say every chance they get that the repeal process could be dangerous and complicated, and must go slowly, even though research consistently says the opposite: that this kind of transition is best done quickly to avoid confusion and obstruction. Gates said today that moving swiftly to implement repeal “is very risky” and Mullen agreed, saying it could “generate a very bad outcome.”
Besides the operational problems these comments will create in a self-fulfilling prophecy (when leaders say a transition will be tough, that makes it tougher), they are politically toxic. Surely conservatives in Congress will find that even the current year-long study period is too quick. For them, another two centuries would be a more appropriate time line, and they will continue to say, even at the end of this year, that change must be “cautious and deliberate,” Washington-speak for “never.” This is why the mandate of the study group is flawed: while Gates says the group is studying how, not whether, to lift the ban, it is Congress that will ultimately decide whether to repeal the ban; and the more military leaders, with the President’s blessing, speak of the danger and risk of repeal (despite evidence that both are negligible), the less likely it is that sufficient votes will emerge in Congress to actually carry out the military’s recommendation to end the ban.