Admiral Michael Mullen, President Bush's nominee to replace General Peter Pace, the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) yesterday that Congress not only can revisit the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on open service, but that he'd "love for" Congress to make its own decision about the law. His remarks represent a fast-changing environment among military leaders and a welcome change of pace in the office of our nation's top military commander.
A Welcome Change of Pace
It was just a few months ago that General Pace ignited a firestorm of controversy by telling the Chicago Tribune that lesbians and gays are "immoral," and emphasizing his opposition to repealing the military's ban. When the Pentagon announced Pace would not be re-nominated to the post, CNN's Barbara Starr indicated that his remarks about gay personnel, along with the war in Iraq and his steadfast support for Vice Presidential adviser Scooter Libby, played a significant role in the decision to name a Chairman.
Admiral Mullen has learned well the lesson of Pace's remarks, and prompted by a question from Senator Collins said yesterday that, while he'll implement the law that's on the books, “I really think it is for the American people to come forward, really through this body, to both debate that policy and make changes, if that's appropriate.” He went on to say that, “I'd love to have Congress make its own decisions” with respect to considering repeal.
It's not the first time Mullen has indicated he's willing to debate the wisdom of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." In April, during an address to The Brookings Institution in Washington, he said that "“If it’s time to revisit that policy, the American people I believe — and we live in a country — the American people ought to raise that issue and we’ll have the debate. As a member of the Joint Chiefs and obviously the head of one of the services, I will contribute to that and give my best military advice based on what — the debate that’s going on, and if it changes, it changes. I think that’s the path right now."
That's a big step forward from declaring us all immoral and unfit for service.
When she questioned Mullen on Tuesday, Senator Collins, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the Admiral that she had “recently met with a retired admiral in Maine who urged me to urge you to reexamine the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy." It was a not-so-subtle indication that more and more military commanders are telling our elected leaders that repeal isn't just possible; it's preferred.
Yesterday's hearing in the Senate brought a welcome sign that our next Joint Chiefs Chairman will at least be open to discussing repeal, and that even Republican lawmakers are considering backing a change.
In just a few months, the campaign to open our armed forces to patriotic gays has moved forward by leaps and bounds, and that's a welcome change of pace indeed.