One would be hard pressed to figure out how the White House could credibly avoid tackling the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in its second year. Just this past October President Obama said, "I will end 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'"
Both the White House and Congress will soon turn their attention to the crowded legislative agenda that will be facing them when they come back to Washington after the holidays. Two wars will be going on and no doubt both will take up much of the President's precious time, but now is the time for President Obama and his legislative team, huddling with House Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Reid, to come up with the legislative list they want to push through Congress in 2010.
Because health care and the Afghanistan war have consumed far more time this year than expected, one assumes the '10 legislative agenda will be very focused, even scaled back a bit. There are the ambitious and big ticket items - jobs, jobs, and jobs - plus financial services reform and climate change.
But there are other urgent initiatives that need to get done too, and some will not be nearly as sweeping or as tough as some in the White House may fear. On this short list should be the repeal of DADT.
In the February-March timeframe, the President will most likely send up to Capitol Hill his defense budget. (DADT was written into the defense budget 16 years ago.) What better place for the President to make good on his words to end this law than in his very own defense budget?
While the President has consistently said the right words, whether it be on the campaign trail last year, at LGBT events, or at a black-tie Washington event, he has not spoken as clearly or as forcefully on repeal to Congress and to his own senior leadership team in the Defense department.
If Secretary Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen are going to be tasked by the White House to do something significant on repeal, those discussions must begin in earnest - soon - or the opportunity to get rid of the gay ban next year may slip away.
It seems to me that this President has been measured, agile, thoughtful, and extraordinarily respectful of his top officials in the Department of Defense. During this first year, the Commander in Chief more than earned his stripes, whether it was Dover and the photographing of our returning dead warriors, agreeing to the Afghanistan surge, or delivering more dollars for the Pentagon. The brass pretty much got what they asked for from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Now the time has come for the President to have that very candid DADT repeal discussion with Sec. Gates and Admiral Mullen - and for them (and those who report to Gates and Mullen) to salute. It need not be a come-to-the-woodshed or quid-pro-quo discussion. (We now know that is not the Obama style.) Gates and Mullen have both pointed out that they are well aware of the President's strategic intent and objective. I suspect they both also know that full repeal is the right and best thing to do for all of our troops and for our country, and they both appreciate all too well that the President needs their help here, as well as their remarkable leadership and credibility.
It's past time for Gates and Mullen and the White House to stop circling each other in their awkward tango around "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Let's be candid. No one really expects Gates and Mullen to go first, to actually get ahead of the President on overturning DADT. The reality is the President must initiate this candid discussion and, in doing so, he will establish that the three of them are in alignment on repeal, that the time has come.
No one wants a replay of the sorry and mean-spirited discussion that took place in 1993 on this subject. Our country, including the military, has moved on and is in a far different place. Today, 26 countries allow their gay and lesbian troops to serve without discrimination, and a vast majority of Americans, including churchgoers, think the U.S. should allow that too. When President Obama and Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen say to Congress the time has come for us to join those other 26 countries in allowing open service, and say it clearly in their defense bill going up to the Hill, Congress will follow their recommendation and embrace their bold leadership, and we can finally go about burying this embarrassing chapter.