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Mr. Fix-It

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration has replaced an old axiom, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," with one of its own: "If it ain't broke, fix it till it is." That's certainly what the O-Team is doing to the U.S. military.

While campaigning for the presidency, then-Sen. Barack Obama repeatedly promised to "end discrimination against gays and lesbians" by the U.S. military's so-called "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Last October, he told supporters at a Human Rights Campaign dinner here in Washington, "I'm working with the Pentagon, its leadership and the members of the House and Senate on ending this policy. ... I will end 'don't ask, don't tell.' That's my commitment to you."

Of course, it's not a matter of "policy"; it's the law -- and it's been on the books since 1993. Section 654 of Title 10 of the U.S. Code clearly states: "The presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability." Notably, this language became the law of the land -- not just "policy" -- while American troops were engaged in Somalia.

Apparently, someone had partially educated Obama to the law he vowed to uphold, and he made a rhetorical adjustment. During his Jan. 27 State of the Union address, he said, "This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are."

Those applauding his revised pledge to the Democratic Party's base evidently missed two important points. First, there is no inherent "right to serve" in our military. Secondly, the law isn't about "who they are." It's about what they do.

By February, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Adm. Mike Mullen, who is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., were musing about a "moratorium" on enforcing the law in order to meet "the president's commitment." They eventually decided the Pentagon should undertake a detailed study to determine how to implement a repeal of the law. As Gates put it, "the question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change, but how we best prepare for it."

In subsequent congressional testimony, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, Adm. Gary Roughead, who is the chief of naval operations, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway all urged that the law remain unchanged while American troops are at war. Conway, who retires next week after more than 40 years of service, was blunt: "My best military advice to this committee, to the secretary and to the president would be to keep the law such as it is."

That advice was ignored by the O-Team. Instead, the administration worked behind the scenes with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to attach an amendment to the 2011 defense authorization bill, which would have required the Pentagon to implement Obama's campaign promise. The measure failed when the "sponsors" couldn't cobble together 60 votes to shut off debate before next month's elections. That's where the matter stood until last week.

On Oct. 12, U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips issued an injunction barring the Defense Department from enforcing Section 654 of Title 10 of the U.S. Code and required the services "immediately to suspend and discontinue any investigation, or discharge, separation, or other proceeding, that may have been commenced" under "don't ask, don't tell." The Pentagon issued a flurry of orders to comply with the court order -- allowing practicing homosexuals to enlist -- while warning potential applicants that "the situation may change."

And change it did. On Oct. 20, in response to a plea from the flummoxed Obama Justice Department, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a temporary stay of Phillips' order pending a hearing in San Francisco on Oct. 25. That should be some hearing. It's a good thing cameras aren't allowed inside federal courtrooms.

Does Phillips' order apply only to gays, or does it mean the military also must accept bisexuals and transgender people? Will military hospitals, already overwhelmed with combat casualties, be required to perform sex change operations? Do military chaplains have to conduct same-sex marriages? What will this do to military recruiting and retention in the midst of war? Nobody knows.

All of this is the result of Obama's penchant for making inane campaign promises with no coherent comprehension of the consequences. That's what happened with his ploy to close the terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Today's "don't ask, don't tell" chaos is akin to his scheme for trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, in a Manhattan courtroom -- and his support for building a mosque near ground zero. "Mr. Fix-It" makes bold promises. Someone else has to clean up the mess, especially when the mess would wreck the finest military the world has ever known.

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