Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Brass Hats & Hard Choices

Trying to explain away President Obama's dithering on "don't ask, don't tell," (DADT) Mark Kleiman reaches back to Francesco Guicciardini:

If you attempt certain things at the right time, they are easy to accomplish: in fact, they almost get done by themselves. If you undertake them before the time is right, not only will they fail, but they will often become impossible to accomplish even when the time would have been right.
If by waiting an extra year Obama can make this come from the Pentagon brass hats rather than having to force it down their throats, it will be worth it, not just from his viewpoint but from the viewpoint of gay servicemembers.
This begins by obscuring the fact that there already are "Pentagon brass hats" who favor overturning DADT, which implies there is no need to wait around another year before pretending to base the decision on the wishes of military commanders. Cherry-picking the agreeable "brass hats" now rather than next year means one less year of bigotry-based discharges.

More fundamentally, there's no good reason why it is, or should be regarded as, a good thing for the repeal of DADT to "come from the Pentagon brass hats." The Pentagon answers to the president under our system, not vice-versa. Military officers who walk around with the expectation that they'll favor all -- or most, or even some -- of the orders they're given are walking around in a perversely mistaken fog that needs to be dispelled last week.

Repealing DADT will anger and deflate some people; leaving it in place angers and deflates others: there is no universally pleasing set of orders to issue.

In a more perfect world, the Pentagon would already be clamoring to repeal DADT, just as in a more perfect world in 1953, the former slave states would have been clamoring to to repeal segregation. In the world as it is, hard choices must be made.

Hard choices have consequences. The implied political calculus may well be correct: repealing DADT now may well imperil President Obama's political fortunes at the margins of his support.

As hours and days pass, President Obama is making his choice, and for as long as that choice is to leave DADT intact, he betrays the principles for which so many supported him. This, too, imperils him politically, and stirs cowardice and disgrace into the mix.

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