What’s the best way forward on repeal of DADT?

Sam Nunn says he thinks it’s okay for lesbians and gay men to serve openly in the military. This is really surprising to those of us who remember what a colossal jackass Sam Nunn was in 1993. More than anyone, he led the fight to keep lesbians and gay men out of the military. So what changed? “Society has changed, and the military has changed,” he says.

Oh, and by the way:

In an interview this week, Nunn told the Associated Press that the law known as “don’t ask, don’t tell” should be overturned as long as there is enough time to prepare the troops for the change. He said the Pentagon should be given at least a year before the repeal takes effect to ensure operations in Afghanistan aren’t affected.

That’s the catch. And that’s exactly what makes me suspicious of legislative repeal.

I’m really not certain of the best way forward on eliminating the ban on lesbian and gay servicemembers. Is it through legislation or through the courts?

Victory in Log Cabin Republicans v. United States of America gives us reason to hope that the courts might end the discharges more quickly than Congress and the Obama administration will. However Obama has made it clear that he will continue to defend DADT in the courts, and even if this victory survives the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, it could still be shot down by the Supreme Court. Given the current composition of the Court, it’s a serious gamble to count on justice from that quarter.

On the other hand, passage of repeal would seem to make defeat in the courts much more likely, and place the fate of lesbian and gay servicemembers in the hands of an administration that is in no hurry to halt the discharges. There is no doubt at all that if repeal passes, the Obama administration will delay implementation. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has even said so: “My greatest fear is that we will be told that this law will be overturned by a court and we will be told to implement it without any time for preparation for training, any of the other efforts that need to be undertaken to prepare us for such a change.” In other words, the Senate needs to pass repeal to make sure the discharges can continue until the administration is ready to stop them.

I’m sure a lot of people — especially establishment liberals — will counsel patience. There are still a lot of people who have faith in Obama’s determination to do the right thing. Faith in Obama, like faith in Jesus, has no rational basis whatsoever. It’s based entirely on the believer’s will to believe. The difference is that faith in Jesus might actually help your cause. It can give you the confidence to go ahead and do the right thing — or more often, the wrong thing — in the conviction that God is on your side. But Obama is actually here on the ground, in a position of great political power, to throw a wrench into your plans. This blind faith in Obama is, along with blind faith in free markets, among the saddest non-religious delusions in America today.

Whether repeal passes this month or not, the discharges are likely to continue, and the longer Obama dicks around and delays implementation, the more likely there are to be problems and the more likely there is to be organized resistance. Delays just gives reactionary forces time to organize. We’ve known that at least since 1993:

Mr. Frank’s report cited a 1993 RAND study on the effects of allowing openly gay members to serve in the American military, which concluded that “phased-in implementation might allow enemies of the new policy to intentionally create problems to prove the policy unworkable.” On personnel policy decisions of this nature, the RAND study said, “Any waiting period permits restraining forces to consolidate.”

There are a couple advantages to legislative repeal: it would make it even harder for Obama to disclaim responsibility for the discharges, and even if Obama never gets around to implementing it, the law will be in already place, and a friendlier president would be able to effect change with the stroke of a pen. So if Harry Reid can manage not to screw this up, that will be a good thing.

But don’t kid yourself: Repeal of DADT, if it happens, will not end this struggle, and the primary obstacle to implementation will still be Barack Obama. As always, I would be happy and relieved to be proven wrong. But don’t count on that.

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