March 14, 2007

Simpson: Dump Ban On Gays In Military

With the recent remarks of General Peter Pace regarding homosexuality still reverberating through the national media, former Republican Senator Alan Simpson weighs in on the ban on gays serving in the military. One of the original supporters for the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, Simpson has changed his mind:

As a lifelong Republican who served in the Army in Germany, I believe it is critical that we review -- and overturn -- the ban on gay service in the military. I voted for "don't ask, don't tell." But much has changed since 1993.

My thinking shifted when I read that the military was firing translators because they are gay. According to the Government Accountability Office, more than 300 language experts have been fired under "don't ask, don't tell," including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. This when even Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently acknowledged the nation's "foreign language deficit" and how much our government needs Farsi and Arabic speakers. Is there a "straight" way to translate Arabic? Is there a "gay" Farsi? My God, we'd better start talking sense before it is too late. We need every able-bodied, smart patriot to help us win this war. ...

Military attitudes have also shifted. Fully three-quarters of 500 vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan said in a December Zogby poll that they were comfortable interacting with gay people. Also last year, a Zogby poll showed that a majority of service members who knew a gay member in their unit said the person's presence had no negative impact on the unit or personal morale. Senior leaders such as retired Gen. John Shalikashvili and Lt. Gen. Daniel Christman, a former West Point superintendent, are calling for a second look.

Second, 24 nations, including 12 in Operation Enduring Freedom and nine in Operation Iraqi Freedom, permit open service. Despite controversy surrounding the policy change, it has had no negative impact on morale, cohesion, readiness or recruitment. Our allies did not display such acceptance back when we voted on "don't ask, don't tell," but we should consider their common-sense example.

Third, there are not enough troops to perform the required mission. The Army is "about broken," in the words of Colin Powell. The Army's chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, told the House Armed Services Committee in December that "the active-duty Army of 507,000 will break unless the force is expanded by 7,000 more soldiers a year." To fill its needs, the Army is granting a record number of "moral waivers," allowing even felons to enlist. Yet we turn away patriotic gay and lesbian citizens.

Simpson has a long track record as a Goldwater conservative -- strong on national defense, fairly libertarian after that threshold, so this position comes as no surprise. He has no particular axe to grind, either; no one is mentioning Alan Simpson as a Presidential candidate. He has mostly enjoyed his retirement from partisan politics, focusing most of his public efforts on questions of policy.

He makes a strong case here. No one has ever shown openly gay servicemembers to be a particular threat to unit cohesion. Our allies have not had that experience, and the British openly recruit from gay and lesbian forums for their military, as I noted six months ago to the day.

Pace's comments, however, show a wisdom in the DADT policy that I had not considered before. It gave the military some breathing room to attempt to change the environment in order to make a future transition easier. It was also hypocritical and less than courageous -- after all, it acknowledged that gay and lesbian members serve with honor and distinction, but required them to remain silent and mostly unknown examples. However, DADT allowed a generation of leadership to pass from the service and brought in the next generation, one that knows only DADT and presumably understands the truth behind it. Pace is among the last of the old guard.

Nothing heats up the comments threads like the subject of gay and lesbian service in the military, and I expect to get plenty of criticism for my views on this subject. In the past, I have been criticized for not having served in the military and having no understanding of deployment (true), of having close family members who are gay (false to my knowledge), and of wanting to pander to the liberal bloggers and media (laughably false). I believe that patriotic men and women should be allowed to serve their country, regardless of sexual orientation, as a matter of principle, because in truth they do so now. As Barry Goldwater himself once said, I only care that they shoot straight -- and preferably at a jihadi terrorist.


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