Gates, not Obama, ‘will be making the call on DADT in December’

In Kerry Eleveld’s latest column, she analyzes the prospects for legislative action on DADT this year, which has been promised repeatedly by the Obama administration. Kerry examines the track record of Team Obama on the public option and the BP oil spill to arrive at and draw some conclusions that are accurate, but don’t bode well. And, it’s clear that the Secretary of Defense, not the Commander-in-Chief, is calling the shots:

First, this administration seems to arrive at any bargaining table ready to make a deal. That may be seen as a virtue by some or a weakness/strategic misstep by others, but it is nonetheless something administration officials consistently telegraph that can be exploited by those sitting across from them.

Second, what they are saying is not always an accurate reflection of what is happening, even on some of the most pressing issues of their administration. In other words, better for outsiders to look for clues rather than take things at face value.

Despite the fact that a White House spokesman indicated that they fully “expect” the Senate to act on the National Defense Authorization Act by year’s end, neither of the aforementioned axioms bode well for “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal.

The White House has always signaled that they are in lock step with the Pentagon on repeal. If you go back to the statements released from the White House (via former OMB director Peter Orszag) and the Pentagon (via Defense secretary Robert Gates) the week of the vote in the House and Senate Armed Services Committee, they are almost identical.

Both letters say that “ideally” Congress would not take action until the Pentagon report is released before Orszag concedes that the bill’s language “meets the concerns” raised by top military brass and Gates says he could “accept” the compromise language.

That’s why it’s best to pay attention when Gates told reporters a couple weeks ago that he and the president both held the opinion that “the best legislation would be legislation informed by the review” that’s due out in early December. You can bet that Gates wasn’t freelancing that answer and that it’s likely a truer reflection of White House intent on repeal.

And, her powerful — and disconcerting — conclusion:

Bottom line, when it comes to most negotiations between the White House and the Pentagon, what Gates wants, Gates gets. Quite frankly, it wouldn’t be outrageous to think that the president is willing to let DADT linger as he works to simply get the answers he’s looking for in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

It’s not only a terrible scenario for DADT, it’s a frightening scenario for our country – the idea that officials at the Pentagon would be so openly defiant of the commander in chief.

Passing “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the lame-duck session would take a Herculean effort that involved Secretary Gates giving his blessing, President Obama using his bully pulpit, and the Senate Democrats displaying extraordinary leadership. If past is prologue, all three of those seem a tad fantastical. But Gates is key — he will be making the call on DADT in December. Without his buy in, it isn’t happening.


On October 27, 2010, Joe was one of five bloggers who interviewed President Obama. Joe is a DC-based political consultant with over twenty-five years of experience at both the state and federal level. Joe has managed political operations and legislative efforts for both candidates and issues-based organizations. For seven years, he was the Director of State Legislation at Handgun Control, Inc. He served as that organization's first Political Director during the 2000 cycle. Joe is a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law. In addition, he has a Masters in Public Administration from Lehigh University and received his B.A. from the University of New Hampshire. Joe also has a fun dog, Petey, a worthy successor to Boomer, who got Joe through eight years of Bush and Cheney. Joe likes to think he is a world class athlete having finished the 2005 Chicago Marathon in the time of 4:10. He has completed six other marathons as well -- and is still determined to break the four hour mark.

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