THE BLOG
08/07/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

But Am I Safer, Mr. Secretary?

When someone invokes 'humane' treatment, what springs to mind for you? Maybe the ASPCA battling the abuse of dogs or PETA railing against the cruelty of animal testing; perhaps the ACLU advocating for proper treatment of terrorism detainees.

Whatever comes up, usually it involves people being urged to properly value the life of something that, for some reason, might be considered sub-human. It's the act of visiting kindness or compassion on something deemed less deserving -- which made it all the more telling last week when Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said he was seeking "a more humane way" of enforcing the military's policy that bans gay men and lesbians from service.

To be specific, Gates gave an interview in which he said Pentagon lawyers were researching alternative ways of implementing the ban, which currently bears no resemblance, by the way, to the magnificent policy misnomer "don't ask, don't tell." Just to be clear, in many cases, soldiers are told on, they are investigated, and they are asked.

Among other things, Gates said they were reviewing whether third-party outings should necessarily prompt an investigation.

"When we're given information from someone with vengeance in mind or blackmail, somebody who has been jilted," Gates explained, "If somebody is outed by a third party, does that force us to take action? That's the kind of thing we're looking at -- seeing if there's a more humane way to apply the law until it gets changed."

If it sounds like the government has sometimes been a willing participant in the blackmail of men and women who are voluntarily defending America's freedom -- that's not far off.

Now on one level, Gates's comments were welcome -- they were the very first indication in several months that military leaders are engaging in serious discussions with President Barack Obama about changing the policy.

On another level, his words were not only offensive, but when the phrase was repeated last Sunday by the Joint Chiefs Chairman, Admiral Mike Mullen, the tandem laid bare the cultural generation gap that remains the biggest hurdle to our nation doing what 23 of our NATO allies have already done -- let those who are willing to die for their country do so in full view of their countrymen.

Even more striking to me was their misguided emphasis on some perverse notion of mercy when one would think their focus would be on building the strongest military possible. Is it really conceivable that, somehow, it hasn't occurred to these guys that kicking out some 13,000 soldiers over the past 16 years -- hundreds of whom had mission-critical skills -- might undermine the military's ability to effectively do its job? If that is the case, then nothing short of homophobia is blinding them from the truth.

And while it's perfectly noble for Sec. Gates and Adm. Mullen to be aspiring to a kinder, gentler force, quite frankly I think they're pondering the wrong question.

Shouldn't the measure of any military policy be whether it's promoting
national security in a manner consistent with our constitutional values?

With all due respect, Mr. Secretary, the next time you're mulling the ouster of gay service members, skip the paternalism and just tell us whether we're safer and whether we're upholding American ideals.