Wednesday, September 22, 2010

DADT: The President, the Senator, the Judge—and the General

Jason Mazzone

According to the Constitution of the United States there are three branches of federal government: the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. In recent weeks, representatives of all three branches have weighed in on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT). The President has pushed for repeal. The Senate on Tuesday took up (but failed to advance) a repeal provision that has been approved by the House. A federal judge in California held DADT unconstitutional.

This—whether one likes the ultimate result or not—is how our federal government works: Congress enacts legislation; the President enforces federal laws unless and until they are repealed; the courts review the constitutionality of legislation.

Consider, then, this news report about the President’s effort to repeal DADT:
In that effort, he [President Obama] had won the support of his top Pentagon leaders, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

And this one about the Senate’s vote on Tuesday:
Ahead of the vote, President Barack Obama’s choice to lead the Marine Corps cautioned against repeal. “My primary concern with proposed repeal is the potential disruption to cohesion that may be caused by significant change during a period of extended combat operations,” Gen. James Amos told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Question: What’s wrong with this picture?

Answer: There is no military branch of government.

In our constitutional democracy, the military is subordinate to the President as Commander in Chief. The President should not need to win “the support” of military personnel. And military officers should not be contradicting the President’s decision that repeal of DADT will not undermine the effectiveness of troops. Civilian control of the military means that the military doesn’t get to weigh in separately on issues of policy.

Most of the time, everybody understands that there is no military branch of government and that the military’s view is that of the President. But on DADT the military has acted as an independent participant. The trouble began in 1993 with Colin Powell who publicly opposed the effort by his Commander in Chief—Bill Clinton—to allow openly gay soldiers to serve. (Powell now supports the repeal measure.) Our constitutional system does not permit Generals to stand in opposition to the President.

There is no fourth branch of government. It’s time for all of Obama’s officers to fall in line.

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