THE BLOG
04/02/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Don't Let an Ambush Happen Again, Mr. President

Trying to connect the dots, it's not clear what kind of picture we're getting -- but connections must be made, to paraphrase the words Arthur Miller put into the mouth of Willy Loman's wife. And to quote her directly, "Attention must be paid."

In recent weeks, Todd Belok, a student at George Washington University in our nation's capital who wanted to follow in his grandfather's Navy footsteps, was kicked out of the Naval ROTC program because two of his comrades spied him kissing his boyfriend at a fraternity party -- and told. They felt it was their duty. But Belok is no patsy. He organized a campus rally and a march to the White House on Saturday to protest his discharge, and he'll participate in the big "Freedom to Serve" rally March 13th on Capitol Hill.

In Kansas, Amy Brian, a specialist in the Kansas National Guard who had been deployed to Iraq where she worked 12-hour shifts on vehicle maintenance at Camp Anaconda (who comes up with the names for these places?), came home and kissed her girlfriend in the checkout line at Wal-Mart. Oops! Now that was stepping into the line of fire. Who knew that Topeka was more dangerous than Baghdad? For Brian it was. A civilian coworker happened to be in the vicinity and witnessed the act. She decided it was her patriotic duty to report it. (One wonders who's the patriot here, but that's another blog.) Brian was relieved of her job, receiving a general discharge under honorable conditions in January.

Congratulations, homophobes, score two for your side.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, the White House is playing cautious while ominous rumblings are emanating from Congress. Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- an Obama campaign promise, after all -- seems to be moving slowly. I suppose we should be thankful that it's moving at all, considering the mess the economy is in and those two drawn-out wars we're fighting many time zones away. Compared to that, repealing DADT is a piece of cake.

Or it ought to be. Repealing DADT requires only that Congress get a grip, catch up with its constituents, and pass the law. They'll have the chance, too. Today (Monday) Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), a great champion of repeal, is re-introducing the Military Readiness Enhancement Act to end this nonsense.

President Obama didn't mention repealing DADT in his much praised address to Congress February 24th, but that's OK. He didn't need to mention it if he signals Congress and the Pentagon that he's behind it all the way -- and is ready to lead. If he can get that whopping stimulus package through Congress within the first three weeks of his Administration, he can surely get DADT through Congress this year.

If he's not prepared, though, the opposition is waiting for its moment to embarrass him -- or worse. In late April the Defense Department budget for fiscal year 2010 will be coming before the House Armed Services Committee and before its counterpart in the Senate not long after that. Secretary Gates will testify as will the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including the chairman, Admiral Mullen. The president needs to get his troops lined up now because someone is sure to ask a question about gays in the military, and the question may well come from one of those few troglodytes left in Congress who think the sky will fall and the command collapse if we simply acknowledge reality: thousands of gays and lesbians are serving openly and well in the military today.

The question came before Congress on that same occasion fifteen years ago, when the committees were considering the Defense Department budget. Guess who was prepared? Of course it was the opposition, and the opposition included Senator Samm Nunn, then chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and General Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Both are now reconsidering the issue.

The case against allowing gays in the military was as flimsy then as it is now, but it carried the day -- and for one reason: the opposition was prepared; the president and the White House were not. That time, too, President Clinton was firmly against the ban. He had promised during his 1992 campaign that he would sign an executive order ending it. He couldn't do it because the White House had not prepared the way, either in the Pentagon or in the Congress. The opposition got there first, seized the issue, and framed it to their advantage. That's why the opposition won.

This time, if President Obama plans to keep his campaign promise -- and I am confident that he does -- the White House and the Pentagon had better get on the same page now -- and be ready to face the tough questioning that is sure to come. They don't want to be ambushed -- or Nunned or Powelled -- this time around.