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Voting With Their Feet

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

WASHINGTON -- Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Hideki Tojo tried and failed. Mao Zedong, Nikita Khrushchev and Ho Chi Minh couldn't do it. But commander in chief Barack Obama may well succeed where others could not. If he has his way, he will demolish the finest force for good in the history of mankind -- the U.S. armed forces. And he wants to make it all happen before the end of the year.

On Nov. 30, Defense Secretary Robert Gates released the much-leaked "Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'" Only the Pentagon could come up with a title like that.

The "report" -- 266 pages long -- purports to provide military and civilian leaders in Washington with "a comprehensive assessment" and "recommendations" on changes in Defense Department regulations if Section 654 of Title 10 of the U.S. Code is repealed. The 17-year-old law 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." Importantly, the phrase "don't ask, don't tell" appears nowhere in the law.

Supposedly, the "conclusions" and "recommendations" proffered in the "report" are based on a "survey" of currently serving soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines. Though nearly 400,000 questionnaires on changing the law were circulated, only 115,052 responded. Of those who did reply, 27 percent indicated that allowing open homosexuals into the ranks would adversely affect unit cohesion. Thirty-five percent of service members in deployed combat units said such a change would have a negative impact on combat effectiveness. Sixty-seven percent of Marines and more than 57 percent of soldiers in U.S. Army combat units believe changing the law would hurt combat efficiency, unit cohesion, readiness and retention. Notably, military chaplains -- from all denominations -- overwhelmingly oppose changing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

In a statement, Obama argued that for the first time, "both the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have publicly endorsed ending this policy." Yet the stunning numbers cited in the report substantiate the "military capability" clause in the current law and directly refute his claim that the law can be changed in the midst of a war "in a responsible manner that ensures our military strength and national security."

This week, in pressing Congress for urgent action to change the law, both Defense Secretary Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, once again raised the canard that Section 654 must be repealed immediately because it "forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens." In fact, current law does no such thing. The law simply says that those who commit certain acts should not be permitted to join the armed forces. It's not about "who they are." It's about what they do.

Apparently unmoved by the concern expressed by well over half of our soldiers, sailors and Marines deployed in war zones, Gates and Mullen now argue that Congress must repeal the law immediately or the courts will intervene. That, too, is a phony argument. Section 654 has withstood more than a dozen legal challenges since it has been on the books. The case now pending in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is but the most recent test. The Obama administration's "legal eagles" need only dust off old files going back to the Clinton administration to see how the law has been upheld in the past.

Obama's push to have the law repealed by this lame-duck session of Congress has been seconded by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. But the full-court press may yet produce the political equivalent of an elbow in the face for the O-Team.

In his testimony Dec. 2, while urging the Senate Armed Services Committee to act immediately on changing the law, Mullen told the solons that service in the military is a "meritocracy" based on "what you do, not who you are." That, of course, is the very argument many of us have been making against allowing active homosexuals into the ranks.

Concerns about repeal -- on readiness, retention and recruitment in the brightest, best-educated and most combat-experienced military force in history -- are not assuaged by the report. Nearly 25 percent of those now serving -- and as many as 32 percent of Marines -- said they are likely to leave the service rather than be assigned to live with and serve beside active homosexuals.

This potential attrition -- while more than 150,000 troops are serving in harm's way -- hasn't diminished the O-Team's zeal for repeal. When Sen. John McCain confronted Mullen with this consequence from allowing homosexuals into the military, the admiral replied, "We'll deal with that." Gates, ever sympathetic to the needs of our troops, observed, "They can't just up and leave."

No, they can't. But when they come home, they can vote with their feet. Is wrecking the world's finest military the price we have to pay for a campaign promise? Only this lame-duck Congress knows the answer.

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