Monday, February 9, 2009

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Needs to Go

Owen West, who served two tours in Iraq with the Marines, says that the Pentagon needs to repeal the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.

The lesson for President Obama is that this fight is not about rights, but about combat readiness. This is a propitious moment for seeking change: a nation at war needs all its most talented troops. Last year the principal architects of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” former Gen. Colin Powell and former Senator Sam Nunn, said it was time to “review” the policy.

That’s a polite way of saying they’ve changed their minds. So have many of us who wore the uniform in 1993 and supported a policy that forced some of our fellow troops to live a lie and rejected thousands who told the truth.

If the people who were so freaked out about the idea of having gays and lesbians in uniform and expended all the time and energy they used to ferret them out had instead done everything they could have to ensure that the military was prepared to do their mission — defend the country — we would be a lot better off, both in terms of military readiness and the quality of the soldiers who are in the ranks.

The other readiness argument concerns recruiting. To fill its swelling ranks, the military now grants one in five recruits waivers for disqualifications that run the gamut from attention-deficit disorder to obesity to armed robbery convictions. In a press conference last fall, Maj. Gen. Thomas Bostick, the head of Army recruiting, said the relevant question in considering such applicants was, “Does that person deserve an opportunity to serve their country?” That’s exactly right. And to choose a felon over a combat-proven veteran on the basis of sexuality is defeatist. Ask any squad leader.

Frankly, I’d be more worried about the soldier who can’t deal with the concept of living and working with someone who is gay; they’re the one who isn’t combat-ready.