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Spin cycle

"Spin cycle" Continued...

He blamed politics for the repel push and predicted that combat troops would leave the military in droves if the repeal moved forward.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, fought back. But their support for repeal took a hit just a day later when the military's top generals resisted throwing their weight behind any change during a time of war.

Also testifying before Congress, the chiefs of the Army, Marines, and Air Force publicly contradicted their Pentagon bosses.

"It's important that we're clear about the military risks," said Gen. George Casey, the top Army officer. "Repeal . . . would be a major cultural and policy change in the middle of a war."

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos warned, "Assimilating openly homosexual Marines into a tightly woven fabric of our combat units has strong potential for disruption. It will no doubt divert leadership attention away from an almost singular focus on preparing units for combat."

Air Force chief of staff Gen. Norton Schwartz added, "My best military judgment does not agree with the study assessment that the short-term risk to military effectiveness is low."

Only one of the military's top officers, Adm. Gary Roughead, the head of the Navy, sided with the Pentagon in agreeing that the ban could be removed with minimal risk.

With the House (under its current but soon to be evaporated Democratic majority) having already passed a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the fate of the 17-year old policy rests with the Senate. About a dozen senators have said their vote for or against repeal would be based on the report's findings.

If wavering senators dig into the report, it is unlikely that they will find overwhelming support for such a change in a time of war. That combined with the concerns of the top generals and the fact that many of these senators will face voters in the next two elections cycles means that most moderate senators likely will not feel they have the necessary cover to vote for repeal.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised a Senate vote on the issue before the end of the year, which is likely based on an effort to appease the Democratic Party's disaffected liberal base before the next election cycle gears up.

Some Republicans like Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts have signaled they would back a repeal.

But Senate Republicans have proved adept so far this month at slow walking this and other items on the Democrats' agenda: Every GOP senator, even those backing repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," have pledged not to vote on any other bill this month until tax rate extensions and federal spending matters are resolved. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press that there simply is not enough time left in the year for the Senate to debate fully a repeal of the policy.

For conservatives, protecting the military policy is simply a matter of running out the December clock. If "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" survives this month, it will likely be a part of the military for some time: It is a safe bet that overturning the ban will not be on the congressional agenda of the Republican leaders in next year's decidedly more conservative House.

This may be one reason why Defense Secretary Gates, on Monday, told a group of sailors that he was "not particularly optimistic" that the policy would be changed any time soon.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee is WORLD's Washington Bureau chief. As a reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, he was embedded with a National Guard unit in Iraq. He also once worked in the press office of Sen. Lamar Alexander.

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